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Rematch: UVA, Vanderbilt set to go at it again for 2015 College World Series title

cws2015uvaThree first-round picks, including the #1 overall, Dansby Swanson. That’s Vanderbilt, the defending national champion, looking to go back-to-back against the UVA team that it knocked off in the 2014 College World Series.

“This is what you train for all year. To be given this opportunity, it’s definitely a blessing, because I definitely wanted to help and go out there and try to give my team the best chance to win,” said Carson Fulmer, the #8 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, who will get the ball for the Commodores in Game 1 Monday night.

Fulmer (13-2, 1.95 ERA, 159K/48BB in 120IP, .186 opponent batting average) started the deciding Game 3 of the 2014 CWS Championship Series, won by the Commodores, 3-2, going five and a third innings, giving up two runs, one earned, on three hits, striking out five and walking two.

He will face Connor Jones (7-2, 3.05 ERA, 107K/50BB in 109.1IP, .222 opponent batting average). Jones did not pitch in the 2014 College World Series for Virginia.

Who gets the ball after Jones in Game 2 and an if necessary Game 3 is unknown at this stage.

“Connor Jones will start for us tomorrow. Past that, I really don’t know. I would tell you if I did. But we haven’t even discussed it. We’ll kind of see how guys respond. Certainly there’s some great options, whatever, whoever we trot out there will have a lot of confidence in,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor told reporters on Sunday, sugar-coating things there just a little bit.

Because there really aren’t great options past Jones. Virginia has gotten this far by putting the ball in the hands of Jones, Brandon Waddell and Josh Sborz for 63 of the 83 innings the Cavs have played in the 2015 postseason. Waddell and Sborz tag-teamed the 5-4 win on Saturday that sent the ‘Hoos to the CWS Championship Series, Waddell going five-plus innings, and 87 pitches, Sborz throwing four innings, and 54 pitches, likely limiting Sborz to maybe being able to give O’Connor an inning on Monday in relief.

Waddell might be able to start a Game 3, but it’s hard to imagine him giving UVA more than three innings if so, and O’Connor conceded Sunday that he hasn’t “really thought about whether or not (Waddell) would be an option later on in this series.”

Nathan Kirby, who went two and two-thirds innings (53 pitches) on Friday in his first start in nine weeks coming back from a lat muscle injury, might be able to give Virginia some innings, emphasis on might.

“It’s hard to know for sure how Nathan has bounced back,” O’Connor said. “I can tell you yesterday he felt fine. Now, we didn’t do anything with him. But as far as just moving around and moving his arm around and everything, he felt good. So we’ll look at him over the next couple of days to assess whether or not he’ll be able to help us at all. I don’t even know right now.”

The other options on the mound for Games 2 and 3 include Adam Haseley (2-1, 2.66 ERA, 16K/8BB in 23.2IP, .266 opponent batting average), a freshman who has made four starts in 2015, but last pitched in a game in the ACC Tournament on May 23, and Alec Bettinger (5-5, 5.40 ERA, 63K/23BB in 53.1IP, .256 opponent batting average), who has also started four games in 2015.

An interesting wild card is Kevin Doherty (3-1, 3.25 ERA, 37K/9BB in 44,1IP, .176 opponent batting average), who has been used exclusively in relief in 2015 (22 appearances), but did go 3-0 in three starts in summer ball in 2014 with the Waynesboro Generals, including getting the win in a clinching Game 3 semifinal in which he went eight innings for the eventual Valley League champions.

Vanderbilt is set for Game 2 with Philip Pfeifer (6-4, 3.77 ERA, 112K/43BB in 90.2IP, .217 opponent batting average), and could try to bring back first-round 2015 MLB Draft pick Walker Buehler (5-2,2.85 ERA, 89K/26BB in 85.1IP, .255 opponent batting average) to work the if necessary Game 3 on four days rest.

On paper, then, this one looks like a foregone conclusion. Vandy is rested, ready, deeper. But don’t overlook how Virginia got here, which is by the skin under its dirty fingernails, dating back to a late comeback win at North Carolina on May 14 that brought the Cavs back from the brink of not even making it to their own conference tournament.

“I think in the months of March and April we were something like, we were a .500 ballclub, maybe a game below .500, I think somebody told me 18-19 in those two months combined. So to see how this team kind of hung in there and stayed with each other, it’s about these guys. They figured it out. They didn’t quit through everything that they were dealing with. … We’ve just done enough, and that’s a credit to these players. This is certainly their experience. They figured out a way to get them and their teammates here to have a special experience, and we just feel very, very fortunate that we’re in this series again,” O’Connor said.

– Story by Chris Graham