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June 22, 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. – Baseball is a game that requires a short memory, and that is particularly true in a double-elimination tournament.
The Virginia Cavaliers know full well that Tuesday night’s 7-1 loss to South Carolina in their second game of the 2011 College World Series is one that must be filed away as an ancient history as they prepare to face California on Thursday evening in what will now be a game for survival.
Virginia, the No. 1 seed in this year’s CWS, faced the defending national champions on Tuesday night in an intriguing matchup of teams ranked among the nation’s top five for most of the regular season.
But things quickly went south for the Cavaliers after starting pitcher Will Roberts recorded the first two outs of the game with relative ease. Two errors and three timely Gamecock hits led to three unearned runs before Virginia could record the final out in the half inning.
“We were just fighting an uphill battle once we gave them that three-spot,” Roberts said. “I think it kind of relaxed them, maybe, and they were able to get some good swings on balls there in the third and then in the fourth inning.”
South Carolina’s lead swelled to 6-0 by the top of the fourth. Roberts departed after 3.1 innings, the shortest outing of the season for the junior right-hander who entered the game with an 11-1 record and 1.58 ERA.
Virginia didn’t call it a night. John Hicks provided a glimmer of hope when he crushed his eighth home run of the season into the left field seats in the bottom of the fourth, and the Cavaliers loaded the bases in the fifth before a back-breaking double play killed that threat.
Even Virginia, which entered the game with a 55-10 record that included several gutsy comeback wins, could not get away with spotting six early runs to a team the caliber of USC.
“South Carolina, quite honestly, beat us in every phase of the game tonight,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “Overall, we just didn’t do the fundamental things it takes to win a baseball game at this level, it’s pretty simple. And South Carolina did.”
So now O’Connor’s troops look ahead to facing California, a team they defeated by a 4-1 score in their first series outing on Sunday. The road leading out of their bracket into next week’s CWS finals just grew tougher, but it is one the Cavaliers remain capable of navigating.
“That’s why it’s a double-elimination tournament,” O’Connor said. “We’ll look forward to showing what we are capable of doing on Thursday night. “
WET AND NOT SO WILD
Tuesday night’s game started 68 minutes later than originally scheduled due to intermittent rain showers.
Just another day at the ballpark for the Cavaliers, who have had 17 games altered because of rain this season, including two that were cancelled all together and a 7 ½-hour rain delay during the May 27 game vs. Miami in the ACC Championship. Two of Virginia’s Super Regional games against UC Irvine were altered by rain delays.
Weather-related issues became a big part of the 2011 College World Series before the first participating team set foot in Omaha.
The devastation wrought by the recent flooding of the Missouri River remains very much evident just a few miles from TD Ameritrade Park. Those flying into Eppley Airfield touched down in disbelief to the sight of houses, silos, trees and major roadways almost totally covered by water.
Additional flooding hasn’t been an issue since the CWS got under way last Saturday, but high winds and heavy rain during Monday night’s Florida-Vanderbilt game forced the evacuation of fans from the outer seating bowl to the stadium concourse area. Fans outside in the vicinity of the park were hustled across the street to the nearby Qwest Center.
Warning sirens sounded, but thankfully the storm stayed at mere high-wind levels. Monday night’s game, halted in the sixth inning, had to be completed on Tuesday morning, when Florida put the finishing touches on a 3-1 victory.
For an event held in the Midwest during the early summer, recent College World Series had experienced remarkably few weather problems that forced rescheduling. That changed last June, when Clemson’s opening game against Arizona State was washed out on Sunday and had to be played on Monday morning. The Tigers then faced Oklahoma on Tuesday night, only to see a gigantic thunderstorm halt play in the fifth inning. Clemson had to wait until the following day to complete a 6-4 win over the Sooners.
“This is my 25th year being in Omaha at the College World Series, and I’ve never had more weather issues than I have the last couple of years,” said Dennis Poppe, Vice President for NCAA Division I Baseball and Football. “Last year was the first time since I’ve been here that we had to postpone a game (after it had already started) and finish it the next day. We did it again this year.”
The completion of the Florida-Vandy game and Tuesday’s first regularly-scheduled game between California and Texas A&M were played under a cloud cover, aside from a few moments when the sun teasingly peeked through. Shortly after the final out was recorded in Cal’s 7-3 win over the Aggies, the clouds opened – almost as if on cue – and sent the grounds crew scrambling to cover the field.
The good news was that over two hours remained before the scheduled start of Tuesday’s nightcap between Virginia and South Carolina. The bad news was that while the rain occasionally stopped, it refused to completely go away.
Game time was originally pushed back 30 minutes. Then, roughly 15 minutes before the first pitch, another cloudburst forced the grounds crew to roll the tarp back onto the field.
“You can’t mess with Mother Nature,” Poppe said. “You can do everything you can to prepare for that level playing field. You try to ensure that the young men who come here have no interruptions once we give them the baseball, that they just go out and play, and that the field is in good shape and the stadium is fixed in the proper manner.
“You don’t want to interfere, and you don’t want to stop the game. But the thing about baseball players and coaches is that they know that isn’t always going to happen.”
Virginia’s players and coaches may know that better than anyone else.
HOLT GETS THE CALL FOR UNC
After North Carolina sent ace right-hander Patrick Johnson to the mound for Saturday’s CWS opener and saw freshman left-hander Kent Emanuel dazzle Texas with a four-hit shutout in Monday’s elimination game, it was unclear who the Tar Heels would start on the mound for tonight’s must-win rematch with Vanderbilt.
UNC announced Tuesday that senior right-hander Greg Holt would make his second start of the season and the fourth of his career. Holt’s other 2011 start came against Miami in the opening game of the ACC Championship on May 26. Holt worked 5.2 innings against the Hurricanes, allowing three runs on six hits while walking four and striking out six. Overall this season, the eighth-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals has appeared in 32 games. Holt owns a 7-1 record with a 3.57 ERA and two saves.
In order to avoid elimination, the Tar Heels know they can’t again leave 16 runners on base, as they did in Saturday’s 7-3 series-opening loss to the Commodores. UNC hopes to find a remedy in the hot bat of Ben Bunting, who went 4-for-5 in Monday’s 3-0 win over Texas and is hitting .452 (14- for-31) in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Bunting is batting .500 (11-of-22) in six career College World Series games.