What the 2021 Virginia baseball team may lack in experience, they make up for in poise. With the Cavaliers last making a Super Regional in 2015, no current player on the roster had been past the regionals prior to this year’s dramatic postseason run. Now, the Hoos have taken Omaha by storm, shocking everyone except UVA fans with a huge 6-0 win over No. 3 seed Tennessee in the opening game.
The Cavaliers are one of two teams at the CWS that didn’t get a national seed — the other is NC State — and Virginia made a very loud statement in game one. “I can say so many great things about how we played in every facet of the game,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said after the game. “We were prepared. They handled the moment very, very well, and I knew they would because of the situation that they’ve been in the last few weeks.”
ICYMI: A complete performance from the Hoos to open up College World Series play— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) June 21, 2021
Heading into their Georgia Tech series back in early April, the Cavaliers were a ghastly 4-11 in ACC play. They closed the regular season with a 14-7 record in conference games and won six of the last seven series to enter the ACC tournament with momentum. In both the Columbia Regional and the Super Regional, Virginia dropped their opening game, forcing them into elimination game after elimination game.
Despite not having deep postseason experience, the Cavaliers continued to win when they needed to, and did so in dramatic fashion. Closer Stephen Schoch pitched 2.1 innings of relief to knock out host team South Carolina while being bribed with Dippin’ Dots. Devin Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning after pitching four innings of shut out baseball as the starter against Old Dominion. First year Kyle Teel squeaked a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning in the decisive game three of the Super Regional against Dallas Baptist.
The Cavaliers are a reflection of O’Connor, someone who maintains a pretty even keel most of the time. He is calm, prepared, and has imparted his copious Omaha experiences onto his team. You see that same calmness and preparedness in the Hoos.
Virginia is playing with the perfect mix of excitement for the moment while also keeping their calm and not letting that same moment overwhelm them. Starter Andrew Abbott admitted to letting his nerves get the best of him early on the mound as Tennessee got the first two on via a walk and a single. “The first inning was mainly just trying to get used to the fans,” Abbott explained. “There’s 22,000 of them here. It’s something not every baseball player is used to, especially in college...I was rushing, my heart was beating a thousand beats per minute. I just had to slow down, catch my breath and go to work.”
Abbott would go on to strike out two Vols around a pop out, getting out of the inning with no damage. For the game, he set a new Virginia College World Series record with 10 strikeouts.
At the plate, Virginia got big hits from unlikely heroes and the usual suspects. Senior catcher Logan Michaels picked a great time for his first home run of the season, ripping an absolute bomb to break the 0-0 tie in the third. “I think a lot of us on the team have joked about how I’m saving it for my first one for Omaha this year,” Michaels said with a laugh. “I think it’s just fun....so for it to happen and help the team get a win, definitely happy for it.”
It wasn’t just the solid pitching or timely hitting, either. Virginia’s defense — namely shortstop Nic Kent and second baseman Max Cotier — were outstanding on Sunday afternoon. “Having been to many, many games in this stadium and the other stadium [Rosenblatt], sometimes people don’t handle the pressure in the moment real well,” O’Connor said after the game. “And they did defensively.”
The Cavaliers look like they’re just having fun playing the game they love, and that joy is translating on the scoreboard. Virginia plays again next on Tuesday night at 7pm against No. 7-seed Mississippi State.