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June 20, 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. – Danny Hultzen and Tyler Wilson were expected to provide a 1-2 pitching punch for Virginia in the 2011 College World Series. But few foresaw the Cavaliers making full use of that weapon in their very first game.
No one was surprised the see Hultzen – a consensus All-American and the No. 2 overall pick in the recent Major League Draft – get the starting nod for Sunday’s series opener against California. But when Hultzen threw over 100 pitches and was forced to depart with one out in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, the call went to the bullpen.
And on the receiving end was none other than Wilson – the same guy who earned All-ACC honors as the Cavaliers’ No. 2 weekend starter, the same guy who owned an 8-0 record and 2.29 ERA in 15 starts, and the same guy most assumed was in line to start Virginia’s second CWS game on Tuesday.
That Tuesday game will be a winner’s bracket contest, thanks in large measure to the relief stint Wilson provided. The Midlothian, Va., senior closed the door on the Bears in both the seventh and eighth innings, during which time the Cavaliers finally pieced together enough offensive punch to grab a 4-0 lead.
“I thought he was solid,” California coach Dave Esquer said. “I think he was their Saturday starter on the weekends for most of the year. He's a quality pitcher – fastball with a good down breaking slider.
“Obviously,when you go from Danny Hultzen, it's hard to stay at that level. But it wasn't that it dropped off all that much. (Wilson) was just a different type of pitcher and he gave us a different look.”
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said his decision to use Wilson out of the bullpen wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment hunch, but calculated decision.
Wilson had been a reliever for the first three years of his collegiate career, including a junior season that saw him post an 8-4 record out of the bullpen with a 3.41 ERA and three saves.
“Tyler and I had a conversation two days ago, and I told him what my game plan was, that if we had an opportunity to win in the back half of the game that I was going to use him out of our bullpen,’ O’Connor said. “We have that luxury, because he pitched 35 games for us out of our pen last year, and he understands what that's about.
“That doesn't mean that I don't have confidence in our (regular) bullpen. But I just felt like it was the right thing to do, and we're in this thing to win it.”
Wilson had actually taken a couple of “refresher courses” in bullpen duty prior to Sunday. He worked a third of an inning against North Carolina in the final weekend series on the regular season on May 20, then pitched 1.1 innings of scoreless, hitless relief in Virginia’s 7-2 win over Florida State in the ACC Championship Game on May 29.
“It was good to get that experience, kind of get back in that mindset,” Wilson said. “But at the same time, no matter what position you're in, what role you're playing, your job is to put zeros up on that scoreboard and give your offense a chance to build some momentum and give our team the best chance to win.”
Sunday’s combination effort by Hultzen, Wilson and reliever Branden Kline – who recorded the game’s final out to tie and ACC and Virginia regular-season record with his 18th save – puts the Cavaliers in an enviable position.
Will Roberts, who owns an 11-1 record, a 1.49 ERA and a perfect game this season, is available to start Game 2 vs. defending national champion South Carolina on Tuesday night. So is senior Cody Winiarski (6-3, 3.04). Wilson is potentially available to step back into a starting role for Virginia’s third game on Thursday or Friday. Then, should the Cavaliers play a fourth game in their attempt emerge from their side of the bracket, Hultzen would be ready to go again next weekend.
“I think it's just a privilege to get the ball, whether it's out of the bullpen or as a starter,” Wilson said. “And I think that that's the mentality of a lot of the guys on our team have. They take advantage of every opportunity they have late in the game, early in the game. And they fulfill their role to the best of their ability. And that's what makes our pitching staff pretty good.”
TAR HEELS, LONGHORNS PLAY FOR SURVIVAL
While Virginia looks ahead to Tuesday night, North Carolina (50-15) and Texas (49-18) play for their baseball lives today at 2 p.m.
The scenario is pretty clear-cut: Each team lost its CWS opener on Saturday. The winner of today’s game remains alive in the double-elimination tournament. The season ends for the loser.
Today wasn’t going to be an easy one for the Tar Heels regardless. Had they beaten Vanderbilt in Saturday’s first-round game, they would be facing second-seeded Florida in tonight’s winner’s bracket contest. But at least there would have been some margin for error. There is none today against a Texas program that is consensus top-five in the polls and has appeared in the College World Series on 34 occasions.
“North Carolina and Texas in the first elimination game on the first Monday … how tough of World Series is this?” one sportswriter mused on Sunday.
UNC will rest a large portion on its hopes on freshman left-hander Kent Emanuel (8-1, 2.55), who was solid against Stanford in last weekend’s Super Regional. Texas plans to start right-hander Cole Green (8-3, 3.03), a ninth-round selection by the Cincinnati Reds in the recent Major League Draft. The Tar Heels and Longhorns have never met head-to-head on the baseball diamond but have four common opponents in 2011. Both teams faced Maryland, Missouri, Princeton and Stanford. Texas posted a 10-4 record against those four squads, losing to Maryland, Missouri and Stanford. Carolina posted a perfect 7-0 record, including sweeps against Maryland (three games) and Stanford (a two-game sweep in the Super Regionals).