CHARLOTTESVILLE — The expectations are admittedly huge, and that’s fine with Virginia coach Brian O’Connor.
O’Connor’s baseball team used a six-run third inning en route to cruising to an eventual 11-3 win over Elon to capture the NCAA tournament’s Charlottesville Regional on Sunday night.
“A lot had been made of the first two ballgames that they were all won on pitching and defense, but tonight, certainly we continued to pitch and play good defense but we had a tremendous offensive day collectively as a group,” O’Connor said.
The Cavaliers, the No. 6 seed in the country, will host a super regional this weekend against the winner of the Starkville Regional, either host Mississippi State or Central Arkansas.
Virginia earned its 50th victory of the season (50-10) for the third time in four years, and moves on to the super-regional round of the postseason for the fourth time – all in the past five years. U.Va. joins just two other clubs (Florida and Florida State) that have gotten that far in four of the past five seasons.
The teams were facing each other for the second time in 24 hours -- U.Va. won 2-0 Saturday night -- and Elon fought back late to eliminate No. 2 seed UNC Wilmington 6-4 Sunday afternoon at Davenport Field.
“In every aspect of the game, from physical conditioning to mental conditioning, how your guys feel added on top of having guys and arms available,” Elon coach Mike Kennedy said of his team’s long day.
The third-seeded Phoenix put the home team in an early hole, as No. 3 hitter Ryan Kinsella – Elon’s home run and RBI leader who was 0 for 12 for the regional coming in – smoked a shot into the “Hoo Zone” bleachers in left field to make it 2-0 in the top of the first. Right fielder Quinn Bower led off with a double on the second pitch of the game. It was Kinsella’s 21st homer of the season, the second-highest total in the country.
Elon (34-30) added another run in the top half of the third on a two-out Casey Jones RBI double, but the Cavaliers’ bats came alive in the bottom of the frame and remained hot.
U.Va. catcher Nate Irving got it started with a leadoff double down the right-field line in the home half of the third. Two batters later, senior first baseman Jared King’s RBI double brought him around, and then after back-to-back walks loaded the bases, designated hitter Derek Fisher tied things up at 3-3 with a two-run single.
“We just kept it loose and played Virginia baseball,” said Fisher, who was 0-for-23 career in the NCAA tournament prior to the important knock on Sunday night. He finished the contest 2 for 5 with three RBI.
Shortstop Nick Howard kept it going two batters after that with another two-run shot to make it 5-3, and then third baseman Kenny Towns scored Howard all the way from first with the third Cavalier double of the inning to make it 6-3.
“That just goes to show how great our team is, one through nine,” said No. 7 hitter Howard, who had a career-best four hits Sunday (4 for 5, two RBI). “Any given night it could be anybody who gets a clutch hit or a clutch at-bat. I just think that goes to show how great our lineup is.”
Added O’Connor of the offensive output after scoring just four combined runs coming in: “You know how competitive [Fisher] is and how much talent he has, so I just knew that it was a matter of time before a lot of those guys broke out and they’ve worked too hard to put themselves in this position. They want it too much for it not to go their way.”
The Cavs added two more in the fourth and another in the fifth to make it 9-3, and Elon couldn’t recover as the Cavaliers added a run in both the seventh and the eighth. A career night from Virginia left-handed freshman reliever David Rosenberger had a lot to do with that.
“I just tried to stay ahead of hitters and throw strikes, I wasn’t really too concerned about when I was going to be [pulled] from the game or what the bullpen was doing,” said Rosenberger. “I was just trying to focus on my game.”
Rosenberger entered the contest in the fourth inning for starter Whit Mayberry (3.0 IP, 3 ER on 5 H) and kept the Phoenix off the board with a career-high four strikeouts – including fanning the side in the top of the seventh – to go with no walks and just two hits in his five innings, also a career best.
The Cavalier bullpen tossed 11 scoreless frames over the weekend. Offensively, six of U.Va.’s 11 runs were driven in with two outs.
Six Cavaliers made the all-regional team: Irving, Howard, Towns, Joe McCarthy, Scott Silverstein and Most Outstanding Player Kyle Crockett of Poquoson.
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