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June 24, 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. – Where would Virginia’s baseball team be without Tyler Wilson?
The Cavaliers are glad they don’t have to ponder the thought. Thanks to Wilson, Virginia remains alive in the 2011 College World Series and faces a rematch with defending national champion South Carolina tonight as it tries to play its way out of Bracket 2 and into next week’s championship round.
Virginia, seeking to become the first No. 1 overall seed since Miami in 1999 to win a national title, must defeat South Carolina twice to make that happen. But on Thursday night, it was a matter of first things first. The Cavaliers squared off against California in an elimination game, and Virginia coach Brian O’Connor was thankful he had Wilson available to take the mound.
“All year long, whenever we've needed a great outing, maybe after a difficult loss this year, he's responded every time for this team,” O’Connor said. “He was the right guy to give the ball to tonight, that's for sure. And he went out there and charged the mound and gave us everything that he had.”
Forty-eight hours after the Cavaliers’ disappointing loss to South Carolina in their second CWS game, Wilson put the spring back in Virginia’s step. The senior right-hander from Midlothian, Va., worked 7.2 masterful innings in an 8-1 win, checking the Bears on five hits while striking out five and not walking a batter. He retired 17 of 18 hitters during one stretch and threw just 94 pitches before giving way to reliever Cody Winiarski with two outs in the eighth.
Wilson (10-0) owns both of Virginia’s wins in the 2011 CWS, having picked up the decision in relief as Virginia defeated California 4-1 in its series opener on Sunday. Thursday night’s extended action probably means he will not be available to pitch again unless Virginia defeats the Gamecocks twice and moves on to play next week.
Or will he?
“Well, I mean, it's the College World Series,” Wilson said “How can you not pitch with adrenalin every time you step out there on that mound? The atmosphere is incomparable to anything else that you'll ever play at this level. And I was ecstatic just to be out there. To give our team a chance to build some momentum going into the rest of the tournament was really important.
“So I'll be ready to go whenever.”
With so much rightful attention being given to two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year Danny Hultzen and the career numbers he has put up at Virginia, Wilson sometimes is overlooked. But in his first three seasons as a relief pitcher and this year as the Cavaliers’ No. 2 starter, Wilson has etched a few lines of his own into the record book.
Wilson holds a place on Virginia’s top-10 single-season lists in strikeouts (124, fifth), wins (10, tied for eighth); and innings pitched (104.1, eighth). He ranks second in school history behind Hultzen in wins (27), fourth in career strikeouts (267), eighth in winning percentage (.794) and 10th in innings pitched (249.1).
And all of the above only partially sums up what Wilson means to the Cavaliers.
“In my close to 20 years of coaching, this guy is as good of a leader as I've ever seen,” O’Connor said. “Not only does he perform on the field and is talented, he does things the right way. And the fact that he decided to come back for his senior year and the conversion that he made from being a relief pitcher to a starting pitcher and now he's 10 0 in this year … he's just your perfect teammate. He cheers his teammates on, whether he's in the game or not. I think the guy's a warrior out there and a tremendous leader. And he deserves any and all accolades that he can get, that's for sure.”
SWAB’S MAD DASH
As steady as Wilson was for the Cavaliers on the mound, fellow senior Kenny Swab nearly upstaged him with one wild play in top of the sixth.
With one out and the Cavaliers leading 2-0, Swab lined a sinking shot to center field. California’s Darrel Matthews, who earlier had made two terrific catches, allowed the ball to get past him and roll all the way to the wall.
With the roll carrying to the deepest part of the ballpark, Swab circled the bases for a 3-0 Virginia lead. It wasn’t technically an inside-the-park home run – it was ruled a single and a three-base error – but it was every bit as exciting nonetheless.
“(Calf pitcher Kevin Miller) threw me a curveball/breaking ball up in the zone, and I just got good aluminum on it and hit it out in center field,” Swab said. “I saw (Matthews) kind of trying to make a play, make a short hop catch on it, and it went by so I just started running as hard as I could. I saw Coach Mac (third base coach Kevin McMullan) waving me around and I just went.”
Swab appeared set to score easily standing up, but as he crossed home plate, he awkwardly reached down and swiped the plate as he almost stumbled across.
I heard -- I thought I heard somebody say, ‘Get down!’ ” Swab said. “I didn’t know until the last second, so I didn't get down. And I didn't see (the catcher) grabbing the ball or anything like that or see the ball coming in, so I don't know … it's dumb. But it worked out.”
TIME TO REMEMBER
While his attention was squarely focused on the business at hand Thursday night, Virginia's O'Connor took time to remember his past.
O'Connor, a native of Omaha who played college baseball at Creighton University, joined other members of the Bluejays’ squad that played in the 1991 College World Series for a pregame ceremony.
“It was a nice honor before the game,” O’Connor said. “I'm glad they did it. But I talked to the players a couple of hours before the game – our players – and told them what was going on and that I didn't want it to take away from what their experience is, this experience. Us being in Omaha playing in the World Series for a chance to play for a national championship is about them, not me.
“But it was a nice tribute before the game, and the fact that all my college teammates had an opportunity to see our team play was something that is definitely memorable.”
O’Connor, a pitcher on the 1991 Creighton squad, is making his fourth overall appearance in the CWS. He also worked as associate head coach at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish reached Omaha in 2002, then guided Virginia to its first CWS as head coach in 2009 and again this season.
Thursday night’s game drew an over-capacity 25,833 fans to the new TD Ameritrade Park, the largest crowd in the first 10 games of the 2011 CWS. It was also the largest crowd to ever watch a Virginia baseball game.
This year’s series’ attendance through 10 games stands at 223,143 – an average of 22,314 per game and slightly 8,000 above the 10-game total in 2010, the final year that the CWS was held at historic Rosenblatt Stadium.