One month ago, Nate Kirby struck out Vanderbilt's Kyle Smith looking, and the Cavaliers finally got to hoist the elusive NCAA National Champion's trophy over their heads.
But how did we get there?
Let's re-live the excitement.
May 13. Virginia sat at 12-15 (!!!) in the ACC with a trip to North Carolina looming. Not only were the Cavaliers doubtful to make the NCAA tournament, they were at risk of missing out of the ACC tournament. Joe McCarthy went 2-4 against Richmond on May 12, 2015, finally resembling the pre-season superstar Wahoo fans expected before a back injury sidelined him for 35 games.
"The post season is starting a little early for us." -Kenny Towns
May 16. The Hoos take three games in three days against the Tar Heels, locking in their ACC tournament spot as the No.7 seed.
May 25. After a disappointing ACC tournament in which Virginia won just one game, O'Connor and Co. were selected as the three-seed in the Lake Elsinore Regional along with UCSB, USC, and SDSU. Nate Kirby, who hadn't pitched since April 17, was a maybe to take the mound, but Coach O'Connor wasn't sure in what capacity.
"The fact that the Cavaliers still made the tournament is a testament to the talent on the squad and to head coach Brian O’Connor, who maintained his streak of taking UVa. to the postseason every year of his tenure. And just maybe they are getting healthy at the right time." -Shotgun Spratling, D1Baseball.com
May 29. In the Lake Elsinore (seriously. How Game of Thrones does that sound?) opener against USC, Connor Jones spit fire for 7 2/3 innings before Josh Sborz came in for 1 1/3 innings to close it out. Virginia won 6-1 behind 2-4 days at the plate from right fielder Joe McCarthy and center fielder Adam Haseley. The Hoos scored all of their runs after the 6th inning*.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 1 1/3 Innings
May 31. Virginia takes down San Diego State University, 3-1. Brandon Waddell pitches 7 1/3 brilliant innings, with Sborz closing out the last 1 2/3. The duo combined to hold SDSU to just four hits. Each team scored a run in the 5th inning (Virginia's coming from an absolute destruction home run by McCarthy over the giant right field wall...I don't think it's landed yet), and nine-hole hitter Ernie Clement hit the go-ahead RBI in the 8th inning*. Virginia added an insurance run as Haseley scored on an error.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 3 Innings
June 1. In an absolute barn-burner of a game, Virginia solidified their spot in a Super Regional, knocking out USC 14-10 in 11 innings*. The Hoos looked like they were off to an excellent start as Virginia rattled off four runs in the top of the 1st inning against a tired Trojans team playing their second game of a double header (weather issues). Well, they weren't that tired, apparently, as they responded with five runs of their own in the bottom of the 1st. Virginia answered in the top of the 2nd to tie the game, and proceeded to let the wheels fall off in the 5th when USC plated four more runs for a 9-5 lead.
The good guys scored one more in the 6th inning to make it 9-6, then exploded for three runs in the 8th inning*, with a Pavin Smith single tying the game. Virginia sent 10 to the plate and scored five runs in the 11th to cap the comeback and secure the win.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 4 Innings
June 4. Virginia sells out Davenport for the Super Regional that was never meant to be in Charlottesville. Or against Maryland. Again.
"I just think they are who they are. They’ve been through so much, and adversity’s no big deal to them. And you get to a point where your offense is now in good enough shape. You’re scoring enough. You’ve got McCarthy back. You’ve got Coman back. And they’re scoring enough to where they can come from behind." -Anonymous coach via Baseball America
June 5. Another thriller from the Hoos. Down 3-0 to the Terps in the 8th inning* with one out, Virginia got back to back hits from Daniel Pinero and Matt Thaiss. Maryland brought in their star closer, Kyle Mooney, just in time for Kenny Towns to rip a hit and score Pinero. Pavin Smith followed with a hit to score Thaiss, and the Cavaliers were in business.
Maryland intentionally walked Joe McCarthy to load the bases and bring up the 8-spot hitter: Kevin Doherty. Then this happened:
Connor Jones, decked in his signature camo, pitched a fantastic seven innings before, you guessed it, Josh Sborz came in for two innings of relief.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 6 Innings
June 6. Game two. Super Regional. Trip to the College World Series on the line. You know, the usual.
Things didn't look good for the Hoos as Maryland jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but Virginia re-took the lead 2-1 behind hits from Pinero, Thaiss, and Towns. It was short lived as Maryland tied it in the 4th inning, and took a 4-2 lead in the 8th.
Just as things looked dire, O'Connor and the Hoos pulled a little more magic out of their dugout.
Bottom of the 9th inning*.
Pavin Smith walk. Robbie Coman hit. Joe McCarthy walk.
Bases loaded. No outs. Kevin Doherty up.
Mooney walks him. 4-3 Maryland. Bases still loaded. Nine-hole hitter Ernie Clement at the plate.
And he ripped it for a two RBI, walk-off hit to send the Hoos back to Omaha.
That hit may be top five Virginia sports moment for me personally.
June 13. In the College World Series opener, the most improbable of improbable runs kept trucking as the Hoos took down the Razorbacks 5-3. Daniel Pinero literally stole the show with three nabbed bases and a 3-4 day at the plate. Connor Jones pitched six innings with - you guessed it - Josh Sborz coming in for the last three innings and getting the win. The game was tied 3-3 going into the 8th inning* before Pinero got a hit and stole second and third. Kenny Towns went full Mr. June to drive in Pinero and give Virginia the lead. An insurance run gave the Hoos a little breathing room.
All five Virginia runs came with two outs, because, you know... why not.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 9 Innings
June 16. Things are just getting weird now. Virginia is playing with all of the house money. Brandon Waddell and some cat named Sborz combined for nine innings of no-run, two-hit baseball against Florida in a 1-0 win. Virginia's lone run came on a sacrifice fly from Robbie Coman in the 6th inning.
The loss snapped a 10 game win streak for the Gators, who had one of the hottest offenses coming into the CWS. Two hits. No runs.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 11 Innings
June 19. Nothing happened. Nope. Nothing that ended 10-5. Kirby's first start in forever definitely didn't leave a lot to be desired. The NCAA just decided there should be another game between Virginia and Florida.
June 21. Virginia vs. Florida: the Reduxed Redux. Each team had one loss, making this game the first elimination game for the Hoos in the 2015 post season. The extra game meant Virginia had to trot out Brandon Waddell, throwing a wrench in their pitching strategy should they make it to the CWS final series. Waddell hung in there for a solid five innings before Sborz (sensing a theme?) came in for four innings of relief.
A Matt Thaiss homer gave Virginia the early lead in the 1st inning, but a Florida blast gave the Gators a 2-1 lead. A Pavin Smith triple and a Joe McCarthy sacrifice fly tied the game at two. Both teams battled to make it 4-4, and some nifty work by Josh Sborz preserved the tie.
The 7th inning*. Ernie Clement led off with a single, Adam Haseley worked a walk, Daniel Pinero sacrificed the runners over, and Mr. June knocked a sacrifice fly for his third RBI of the game (he doubled in two runs earlier).
Somehow, against all odds, Virginia was returning to the College World Series.
Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 15 Innings
THE REMATCH OF THE CENTURY!!
Last year, Virginia was the favorite going into the final series, with the plucky Vanderbilt squad fulfilling the underdog role. This time around, the roles were reversed. Vanderbilt boasted the No.1 overall pick in the MLB Draft, Dansby Swanson. They had their pitching rotation ready on full rest, and none of the experts thought that Virginia had a chance in a three game series. The Hoos knew they'd pitch Connor Jones in Game 1, but past that, it was anyone's guess. If they got to a Game 3, Waddell could go on short rest, but that was much easier said than done.
"Vanderbilt and Virginia weren't the best teams in college baseball this year, and they weren't the best teams in their leagues. Neither club earned a national seed. But upon arrival in Omaha, who wanted to play them? No one. When both teams won 1-0 in their second games, they appeared destined for a rematch in the championship series. It's here, and it looks set to match the drama of last season." -Mitch Sherman, ESPN
June 22. Game 1. Nothing to see here. Definitely nothing that ended 5-1. Good news, however, is that Sborz has a day to rest his arm, which will be huge as you'll see in a minute.
June 23. Game 2. Hollywood executives couldn't have put together a better story than what took place at TD Ameritrade that night.
What do you do when you have no pitchers available and it's a deciding game in the College World Series? Go to your center fielder, Adam Haseley, who hasn't pitched since May 24th. Clearly.
And who, you ask, would take Haseley's spot in the outfield? That's Thomas Woodruff, fourth year walk-on whose usual role was as a pinch-runner. Woodruff took right field as McCarthy slid into the center field spot.
Four, two-out hits in the 6th inning gave Virginia the lead as Haseley and Sborz combined to shutout Vanderbilt (only the third time Vandy had been shut out all season).
Honestly, who do you pick as the star?
Haseley, who went for five shutout innings, giving up just four hits while also batting leadoff?
Sborz, who went for four shutout innings, slinging 77 pitches after going four innings just two days prior?
Clement who went 3-4 at the plate, including the hit that scored the eventual game winner?
What about Woodruff, who also went 3-4, knocking in two of Virginia's runs and giving the Hoos a cushion?
Any way you look at it, this game was the perfect summation of Virginia's season. Players stepping up when needed, and the Hoos got clutch production, once again from their eight and nine hole hitters.
With the win, Virginia forced the dramatic Game 3, and the storybook ending was just nine innings away.
*FINAL* Sborz 2015 Post Season ERA Tracker: 0.0 Runs, 19 Innings
June 24. Game 3. Big Game Brandon Waddell on the mound. No Josh Sborz available. Would Nate Kirby make an appearance and be able to shake the epic meltdown from last year's CWS?
Vanderbilt opened quickly with two runs in the bottom of the first inning, but then Waddell settled in and shut out the Commodores through the next six innings, at one point retiring the last 11 batters he faced. Virginia tied the game on a Pavin Smith two-run shot in the top of the 4th inning. Vanderbilt threatened in the bottom of the fourth, but an amazing diving play by Kenny Towns and a stretch at first by Smith got Virginia out of the inning.
Smith came through again in the fifth inning as he drove in Haseley, and Kenny "Mr. June" Towns added an insurance run with a two-out single in the 7th (also scoring Haseley...he went 2-3 with 2 walks in the game).
Kirby came into the game for the ultimate shot at redemption in the bottom of the 7th, and pitched a phenomenal two innings of relief. Kirby struck out five of the eight batters he faced, including getting Smith looking for the final out and securing the 4-2 win for Virginia.
The entire run by this Virginia team was one of the most amazing sights I've seen in my time following sports. This team struggled with major injuries and youth, but pulled it together at the most crucial time.
Brandon Waddell was incredible. Josh Sborz was unstoppable. Adam Haseley contributed at the plate, but also from the mound in the most clutch of situations. Kevin Doherty, Ernie Clement, and Thomas Woodruff proved that the bottom of the order was crucial, providing some of the most goose-bump inducing hits of the season. Kenny Towns solidified himself as one of the most clutch players in Virginia history, and so deserving of the nickname "Mr. June". Kirby redeemed himself on the biggest stage. Pavin Smith flashed the leather at first base and the outfield, and provided the crucial RBIs in the championship game. Daniel Pinero batted out of his mind and made highlight reel plays in the field (and he's coming back!). Oh, and how about Matt Thaiss? Pick a player, and they were an asset to this team.
Hats off to Brian O'Connor, Karl Kuhn, and Kevin McMullan for the stellar job they did. Thank you for an amazing end to the season that will remain one of my favorite Virginia sports memories of all time. Wahoowa.