Last Sunday at 2 PM, UVa baseball was leading the UC Irvine Anteaters 3-0 and looked poised to win their ninth straight game and earn a trip to their second College World Series. We all know that mother nature had other plans and threw a curveball giving UCI and UVa a four hour rain delay and eliminate the 'Hoos momentum. Fortunately, this Cavalier baseball team never quits and gave college baseball one of the most epic comebacks of all time on Monday afternoon.
This Sunday, while much of the sporting world will be watching the US Open hoping that Rory McIlroy chokes harder than our men's basketball team against Miami (What? Too soon?), the 'Hoos will take on the Golden Bears hoping to earn their second school victory in Omaha.
The Bears enter the game having caught fire over the last two weeks in their regional and super regional. The started off the tournament with many surprised they even made the tournament. They amassed a less than amazing 31-20 regular season record and a 13-13 record in the Pac-10 which landed them in sixth place. The tournament committee blessed the Golden Bears by sending them to Houston for the regional to be hosted by Rice. After losing their first game to the two seed Baylor Bears, Cal went nuts and rattled off four straight victories including a come from behind victory in the bottom of the 9th in the deciding game of the regional against Baylor.
In the super regionals, Cal "hosted" Dallas Baptist in Santa Clara. The Golden Bears quickly dispatched of the Patriots in two games and earned their first trip to the College World Series since 1992 and sixth in school history.
The Golden Bears will send their ace to the mound to faceoff against Danny Hultzen and the Cavaliers. Junior RHP Erik Johnson comes into the game with a 7-4 record and a 2.91 ERA. He appears to be a big strikeout pitcher having gathered 100 Ks in his 102 IP. One of the problems he is going to face with the 'Hoos lineup is their patience at the plate. Johnson averages more than half a walk per inning pitched and the Cavaliers will exploit that. Their bullpen has fairly impressive stats but doesn't have a clear dominant closer. Five pitchers on the staff have saves on the season but not one of them has more than five.
At the plate, the Golden Bears will be lead by Sophomore infielder and 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda. Renda has had a hell of a year this year batting .335 and slugging an impressive .441. He was tied for 2nd on their team with 37 runs scored and picked up 42 RBIs which is one behind team leader Chadd Krist. The rest of their lineup should be strong as well with four of the nine batting better than .300. Similar to the Anteaters and other west-coast teams that the 'Hoos have played, the Golden Bears will rely on small ball by sacrificing and hit and runs. If the Bears are going to beat the Cavaliers tomorrow, they are not going to do it with the long ball. The Bears have only hit 31 home runs this year and the cavernous TD Ameritrade ballpark is not the most hitter friendly.
The 'Hoos are entering the World Series as one of the favorites to win it all in a week and a half. They started off as the #1 seed and there is reason for that. For them to be successful tomorrow they need to execute what's gotten them to this spot in the season. I'd expect Hultzen to turn in a great performance and give his team a chance to win. If the defense can be as reliable as it has been all year and the offense can string together a few runs I would expect UVa to win the game and move on to face the winner of the USC-Texas A&M victor.
The game kicks off tomorrow afternoon at 2 PM on ESPN. Tune in and cheer on the 'Hoos no matter where you are! Go Hoos!