#1 UVa. ready for Big Dance
Story by Chris Graham
Who gets the ball for #1 Virginia’s NCAA Tournament opener against VCU on Friday? That’s the question of the day for coach Brian O’Connor.
“We’re still in the process of evaluating the teams. I know that it will be either Cody Winiarski or Danny Hultzen,” said O’Connor in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, looking ahead to the 4 p.m. Friday matchup with the Rams, the champions of the Colonial, who dropped a 10-5 decision to UVa. at Davenport Stadium on May 4.
The rematch gets the in-state rivals together in a playoff atmosphere. Virginia (47-11, 23-7 ACC) is the top seed in the Charlottesville Regional and the #5 national seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. VCU (34-24, 17-7 CAA) is the #4 seed in Charlottesville and as the prohibitive underdog pretty much has nothing to lose.
“Virginia is going to try to win and advance to the College World Series. My goal for us is to go up there and play well. That’s what you have to do as an underdog. If the breaks fall your way and you’re good enough, you can move on. Right now, what we need to worry about is what we’re going to do and not what they’re going to do,” VCU coach Paul Keyes said.
The out-loud thinking from O’Connor about who will get the start in the opener is a sign of the different approaches between the first-game opponents. Winiarski (5-0, 4.39 ERA) is Virginia’s #3 starter, so throwing him on Day 1 of the regional would set up the rotation for the #1 starter Hultzen (9-1, 2.43 ERA) to go on Saturday and #2 starter Robert Morey (9-2, 3.60 ERA) to go on Sunday. The thought process to that end would be that a win over VCU would put Hultzen up against the winner of the 8 p.m. Friday matchup between #2 seed Ole Miss (38-22, 16-14 SEC) and #3 seed St. John’s (40-18, 16-11 Big East) on Saturday and then have Morey fresh for the regional-title game on Sunday.
#4 starter Branden Kline (4-0, 2.96 ERA) was the winning pitcher in the May 4 win over VCU, giving up four runs (all earned) on five hits in six innings.
Kline sits in the wings ready to go should the Cavs suffer a hiccup along the way. The depth in the rotation is a key reason why the ‘Hoos are expected to make a run at another College World Series appearance.
The #5 national seed for Virginia has been the source of some controversy among some of the Wahoo Nation faithful, who feel that their team was shortchanged after spending most of the season at the top of the national polls and sitting at #3 in the final NCAA RPI.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” O’Connor said. “I know that a lot has been made of that, but I don’t think that it matters at all what national seed you are as long as you’re one of them, because it obviously gives you the ability to host a super regional if you happen to win the first weekend. So the fact that we’re #5 and not #4 makes really no difference to me at all. I don’t think it impacts at all which teams are sent to you. I didn’t even really think anything of it that we weren’t higher. I don’t think it changes anything.”