During the last three postseasons, Virginia’s baseball team has conquered San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg, record crowds at Ole Miss, and a down-to-your-last-strike ninth inning againstUC Irvine.
Tuesday night’s opponent in the College World Series may be the most formidable.
Defending national champion South Carolina has won 12 consecutive NCAA tournament games, seven straight in the CWS. OK, so the Gamecocks stumbled in the Southeastern Conference tournament, losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia.
But elite programs measure themselves in the postseason, and there South Carolina is on an epic roll.
The most recent example was Sunday night, when the Gamecocks rallied for a 5-4 CWS victory over Texas A&M. USC allowed four unearned runs in the top of the first inning, countered to tie in the bottom of the frame and won on Scott Wingo’s bases-loaded single in the ninth.
“There's no question that (Tuesday's) game is, at this point, the marquee matchup in the tournament,” Cavaliers coach Brian O'Connor told VirginiaSports.com's Jeff White.
The Gamecocks (51-14) are 6-0 in this NCAA tournament. They lost their CWS opener last season to Oklahoma but promptly won their next six, including two from UCLA in the championship series.
Most important to Virginia, USC’s lineup is stacked with starters from that squad, led by first baseman Christian Walker, second baseman Wingo and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., the 40th pick of the Major League draft by the Boston Red Sox and the MVP of last year's CWS.
Bradley hails from Prince George and was a Virginia recruiting target.
The good news for the Cavaliers is, they avoid Gamecocks ace Michael Roth, who threw 7.1 innings Sunday and lowered his national-best ERA to 0.97.
USC’s No. 2 starter this postseason, sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes, is 7-3 with a 3.78 ERA. The Gamecocks’ pitching coach, by the way, is former Old Dominion head coach Jerry Meyers.
Virginia will start junior right-hander Will Roberts, who’s 11-1 with a 1.58 ERA and has allowed one run in 16.1 innings this tournament.
“There's no question that we're here today in large part because of what Will Roberts has done,” O'Connor said. “He's won a lot of big ball games for us, and if he doesn't step up this year, we don't have the kind of season that we do.”
The Cleveland Indians selected Roberts in the fifth round of last month's Major League draft.
“It's a huge opportunity for me and this team,” Roberts told White of Tuesday. “I'm just really excited to get out there and get my feet wet in the World Series, because it's something I've been watching my whole life, and to finally get a chance to pitch in it's going to be pretty cool.”
The Cavaliers (55-10) defeated California 4-1 on Sunday behind ace Danny Hultzen and solid relief from Tyler Wilson and Branden Kline. Some nuggets from that contest that didn’t make our game story:
* Kline’s 18th save ties the ACC single-season record set last season by Virginia’s Kevin Arico.
* Second baseman Keith Werman had his first multi-hit game since May 14 against Miami and his first RBI in eight contests. He was in a 2-for-20 funk before Sunday’s 2-for-4.
* Virginia and Cal were scoreless through six innings, the first such CWS game since Florida State-Arizona State in 1987. The Seminoles won that contest 3-0.
* Shortstop and leadoff man Chris Taylor extended his hitting streak to 12 games.
* Third baseman Steven Proscia, the team’s RBI leader with 59 and the MVP of the ACC tournament, had a sacrifice fly but went hitless for the third consecutive game. He’s 2-for-14 in the last four outings.
* Tuesday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m., on ESPN. Virginia won a coin toss Monday and is the designated home team.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun