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2024 College World Series: Can UVA, after dropping the opener, still win this thing?

Chris Graham
uva baseball
Photo: UVA Athletics

I’m not going to lie – teams that lose their first game in the College World Series, as UVA did on Friday, falling in walk-off fashion to #4 seed North Carolina, 3-2, are very much behind the eight-ball.

Since the current CWS format was adopted in 2003, just three teams – Oregon State in 2006, South Carolina in 2010 and Oregon State again in 2018 – have gone on to win the national title.

The reason for that becomes obvious when you look at what you have to do, really, when you lose either of the first two games in the double-elimination portion of the CWS.

Lose the first day or the second day, and you have to win a total of four games to get to the best-of-three final, whereas winning both of those first two games means you only need to win a total of three.

Translated, that means at least nine more innings from your pitching staff with the early loss, ahead of the best-of-three.

This is where I remind you that the year Virginia won the national title, in 2015, it did so from the winner’s bracket – and that Virginia team, I’ll note, for posterity, also had a lot of pitching.

Think: Josh Sborz (six big-league seasons), Brandon Waddell and Bennett Sousa (two big-league seasons each), Alec Bettinger and Tommy Doyle (one big-league season each), Nathan Kirby (2015 first-round draft pick), Connor Jones (2016 second-round pick).

That Virginia team with all of that pitching also had four days off in between its second game and third game, then another day off after beating Florida to advance to the best-of-three with Vanderbilt, so Brian O’Connor was able to do what he wanted with his staff.

With the loss on Friday, now O’Connor is at the mercy of the baseball gods.

First things first: UVA needs to get past Florida State, which also lost on Friday in a walk-off, 12-11, to #1 Tennessee, on Sunday.

Win that one, and next up is a game on Tuesday afternoon with the UNC-Tennessee loser, and then, with a win there, it’s Wednesday against the winner, then Thursday if Virginia is able to win that Wednesday game.

Looking at O’Connor’s options, he has Jay Woolfolk ready to go on Sunday, and then Joe Savino to start a third game on Tuesday.

After that …

Wednesday, with the season on the line for a third straight game, would be a staff day, most likely with Owen Coady, who was the #3 weekend starter down the stretch in the regular season, but hasn’t pitched since May 18, as the opener.

I’d imagine O’Connor would then go back to Evan Blanco, who was brilliant in the 3-2 loss to UNC yesterday, for a Thursday do-or-die, pretty much on his normal rest, which would leave us with Woolfolk for Game 1 of the Championship Series on Saturday, also pretty much on normal rest.

Game 2 and an if necessary Game 3 would probably be staff days again. Savino would likely get the nod to start Game 2 on Sunday, but given that he’s coming off an arm injury, you wouldn’t expect him to be able to go more than three or maybe four innings on four days rest.

The vulnerability here is the Wednesday game, with Coady as the starter. We’d be getting either Tennessee’s or UNC’s third starter, which, fortunately for whoever ends up there, it’s not like either has a dominant third guy, but still, their third guy is going to be better on paper than Coady and staff.

As I lay this out, it’s … doable.

As for likely … well, three teams in 20 seasons have done what UVA is trying to do.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].