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Virginia’s path has gotten more difficult, but the Cavaliers have hope

The Hoos and Longhorns face off on Thursday night to stay alive in Omaha.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Mississippi State v Virginia Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Through seven innings on Tuesday evening in Omaha, Nebraska, Virginia pitcher Griff McGarry was literally un-hittable. Mississippi State batters couldn’t get anything going against him as the Cavaliers built a 4-0 lead in their second game of the College World Series.

MSU’s first hit of the night came with a two-run shot to right that cut the Hoos’ lead in half, and it kicked off a six-run eighth inning that put the Bulldogs in the lead. Despite a valiant effort in the bottom of the eighth that included a solo home run from Chris Newell, Virginia fell short, 6-5.

The game was a perfect example of the cruelty of college baseball and the College World Series. One moment, you think McGarry is going to finish off a no-hitter in Omaha — something that hasn’t been done in six decades — and the next moment, MSU is celebrating on the mound after an emotional win.

McGarry, to his credit, took it all in stride. “I don’t think it was a gut punch. I mean, that’s just baseball. It’s a game that can go back and forth. Mississippi State got the best of us tonight. But I’m hoping we play them again and we’ll get another chance at them. That’s just baseball.”

For head coach Brian O’Connor, it was important to get his team in a mental state that has them ready to prepare for and play another game on Thursday evening. “It was important, I told our guys, that they didn’t think about this game as we lost the game. They won it. And it’s important that they think of it that way.

“Sometimes when you have a guy that’s going out there he’s got a no-hitter, he’s pitching a great ball game, you’re up 4-0 going into the last two innings, and they take the lead, you know, sometimes you can think about that, ‘we lost it’, but all the credit goes to Mississippi State. They had key players rise up and get big clutch hits and clutch at-bats, and so they won the ball game.”

Things are going to get a lot harder before they get easier for the Cavaliers. Thursday night, they’ll face No. 2 Texas, which bested No. 3 Tennessee in Tuesday’s elimination game. The Longhorns have been one of the best teams this season, and their bats came alive against the Vols in an 8-4 game that saw Texas score the last four runs.

To earn a spot in the CWS finals, the Hoos will have to beat Texas, then beat MSU twice. It’s difficult, but the Cavaliers have thrived in the postseason so far when they’ve had their backs against the wall. In elimination games this tournament, Virginia has gone 6-0.

“So that was my message — as well as that I’m proud of this team. They have bounced back every time that they’ve been challenged,” O’Connor said. “We’ve been in this position before. And so we have an opportunity to come back out here in this great stadium two days from now and represent Virginia baseball the right way. I know that they’ll be ready for that because I know the character that they have.”

McGarry echoed his coach on the challenge they face. “It was a great game, and obviously tough ending for us,” McGarry said after the loss. “But we’re not out of the fight. We’ve been in this situation before in the Regionals, Super Regionals. [We’re] feeling really confident, and I know our guys will get it done.”

Virginia and Texas square off Thursday night at 6pm. The game will be televised by ESPN2. The Cavaliers will have Mike Vasil on the mound, while the Longhorns are pitching left-hander Pete Hansen.