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June 19, 2011
Steve Phillips, Assistant Director of Communications for the Atlantic Coast Conference, takes you Beyond the ACCtion in Omaha for the 2011 College World Series. Check theACC.com daily for more entries.
OMAHA, Neb. - Each of the eight teams in the 2011 College World Series feels fortunate to still be playing baseball at this stage of the season. Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor admits his team may feel the most fortunate of all.
The dramatic fashion in which the Cavaliers punched their second ticket in three years to Omaha is has been replayed and rehashed to the point it already borders on semi-legend. Still, even with the benefit of overkill and hindsight, Virginia's continued presence in this tournament might to some seem surreal.
Down one run to Cal-Irvine with two outs and two strikes - and no runners on base - in the bottom of the ninth inning of last Monday's third and deciding Super Regional game? Even in a year that saw Virginia stage a few improbable comebacks and set a school record for wins in a season, it was had for even the most optimistic follower to envision the day turning into one of joy in Hooville.
But turn it did. Cal-Irvine has yet to record that third strike or that final out. Chris Taylor's two-run single re-wrote an improbable ending that put Virginia on the plane headed west and into today's first-round CWS game against California.
"You could probably sit there and say that maybe they (Cal-Irvine) deserve to be here," O'Connor said Friday. "They were one strike away from (Irvine) Coach (Mike) Gillespie sitting in this seat instead of me, but sometimes that's baseball. I'm so proud of our guys that we were able to figure it out and win that ballgame and get back here to Omaha.
"It didn't look real great when there were two outs and our first two at bats weren't real good. But, you know, we found a way."
O'Connor could have a different kind of worry as the Cavaliers prepare to compete on today's bigger stage. Have the Cavaliers spent all week living off memories of last Monday - so much so that they could possibly forget to live in the present when they face the Bears this afternoon?
O'Connor doesn't think so.
"I can assure you they're back down," he said. "It was a very emotional game, there is no question. A lot of people have called it the greatest game in our program's history because of what was at stake and a trip to Omaha and what-not.
"But it's been a very, very mature group all year long. They've handled situations like this before. They enjoyed it for 24 hours, which they should. I believe when you have success in this level of baseball, it's important as a player and as a coach that you enjoy it, and they did. But they have turned the page, and they understand the opportunity that is certainly in front of them starting (today)."
TAYLOR SHOWS HIS METTLE
Virginia's Taylor drew national attention for last Monday's game-winning hit is the sophomore shortstop has been a constant for the Cavaliers throughout the 2011 campaign. Ever since a season-ending injury to Stephen Bruno forced Taylor into the starting lineup during the first week of the season, Taylor has provided a steadying force.
Taylor enters the College World Series having hit safely in 11 straight games. That is the ACC's longest active streak.. His 48 RBI rank third on the team.
But for a few horrible minutes last Monday, Taylor counted himself among those who felt the Cavaliers' season on the verge of ending. And he blamed himself.
Taylor failed to haul in a tailing throw from catcher John Hicks on a sacrifice bunt in the top of the ninth inning, allowing the Cal-Irvine runner to go to third base and eventually score the go-ahead run. Even though the throwing error was charged to Hicks, Taylor felt he should have caught the ball, or at the very least knocked it down to keep the runner form advancing another base.
Taylor left the field at the end of the half-inning near tears and retreated behind the Virginia dugout.
"When you're a competitor and a winner like this kid is, and you feel like you could have made a catch and you don't make it, and maybe you start to get that feeling a little bit that maybe you cost your club a chance to come to Omaha," O'Connor said.
"So I walked back behind the dugout and met with him and told him, `Chris, listen, you did everything you could. You need to put it behind you. You need to get back out here and cheer your teammates on. And who knows? Maybe you'll have a chance to make a difference.' "
Taylor made the most of his second chance. Now he and his teammates will collectively look to do the same in Omaha.
There were two historic first pitches of sorts when North Carolina faced Vanderbilt in Saturday's CWS opener.
Former President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bush wasted little time upon taking the mound, delivering a quick toss to the plate that had the distance but was a bit outside. It wasn't quite as sharp as the strike Bush threw as President prior to Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, but still wasn't bad.
Moments later, UNC starter Patrick Johnson threw the actual first-ever pitch in a College World Series game at TD Ameritrade Park. Johnson threw a strike - in the technical sense o f the word, anyway. Vanderbilt leadoff hitter Tommy Kemp fouled the ball down to the third base side.
STILL A HAPPY FATHER'S DAY
After suffering a 7-3 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, third-seeded North Carolina is sitting where no team wants to be after the first day of a double-elimination tournament.
Making matters worse for the Tar Heels is the fact they have to wait until Monday to get back on the field against seventh-seeded Texas.
"I think most college teams would prefer to get right back on the field the next day and not let this linger too long," UNC coach Mike Fox said.
But even though the Tar Heels won't be playing a game, Fox had definite plan for today.
"We'll regroup and we'll go work out somewhere and let the guys rest a little bit and most important let them see their fathers," Fox said. "I think that's extremely important. Dads always make you feel good, no matter what. So I'll make sure they get around their Dads. And this one will be over with, and we'll see what happens Monday."