Sborz on looking at the game like a relief pitcher, which meant taking an inning by inning outlook

CHARLOTTESVILLE — As Virginia approached its most pressure-packed game of the season Monday night, Josh Sborz wasn't the first name to come to mind to help send the Cavaliers into the College World Series.

By the end of the evening, he'd solidified his place among the most memorable performances in U.Va. baseball postseason history. A curtain call from appreciative U.Va. fans at Davenport Field awaited Sborz after a brilliant seven innings on the mound in an 11-2 victory against Maryland in the decisive Game 3 of a best-of-three super regional.

Sborz shrugged off nearly an entire month of inactivity and third baseman Kenny Towns came up with two big early hits to lead the Cavaliers. U.Va. (49-14), which is the national No. 3 seed, is headed to Omaha, Neb., for the CWS for the first time since 2011, and the third time in school history.

"I had complete confidence in Josh Sborz going out there (Monday)," U.Va. coach Brian O'Connor said. "That guy has really electric stuff...When his team needed him the most, he stepped up and was absolutely dominating for seven innings."

U.Va. will play its first game in Omaha on Sunday night at 8 against Mississippi, which defeated Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday night in Game 3 of another super regional. U.Va.'s return trip to Omaha came with far less final at-bat drama than it had in 2011, when it took Game 3 of a super regional in Charlottesville with a 3-2 win against UC Irvine.

"It feels better without the drama," O'Connor said. "I can tell you 2011 was absolutely gut-wrenching how we won that one, but they're all special because every team is different...You know, the 3-2 walk-off wins to go to Omaha are exciting, but I'll take these (wider margins of victory). The 3-2 ones add to this gray hair I have. This (Game 3 win against Maryland) was a little bit more comfortable."

Sborz (5-4), a 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore right-hander from McLean, made sure Maryland (40-23) wasn't much of a threat to ruin U.Va.'s hopes of returning to the CWS.

Over the course of seven innings, he used a fastball that touched 97 miles per hour on the radar gun to scatter four hits, while walking three and striking out nine on 111 pitches — a pretty impressive outing considering he'd only pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief since his last start May 10 against Georgia Tech.

In those innings out of the bullpen against Wake Forest (two innings) and Florida State (2/3 of an inning), he gave up a combined seven hits and four earned runs, taking the loss against FSU in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Prior to the ACC tournament, he was bumped from the No. 2 starter role he'd been in all season and replaced by senior Artie Lewicki in that role.

"It was a little frustrating, but I knew my time would come eventually," Sborz said. "I just tried to give my team the best chance."

For most of Game 3 against Maryland, those relief efforts in the last month seemed like a distant memory. His earned run average dropped from 3.38 to start Monday night to 3.04 by the end of the evening.

Towns, a junior who wasn't selected last week in the Major League Baseball draft, gave U.Va. a comfortable cushion in the first inning after Maryland starting pitcher Bobby Ruse (7-3) immediately ran into trouble.

Ruse loaded the bases in the first inning after hitting Daniel Pinero with a pitch and surrendering back-to-back singles to Joe McCarthy and Derek Fisher. Fisher's single scored Pinero, and moved McCarthy to second base.

With two outs in the inning, Towns blasted a 1-1 offering from Ruse over leftfielder Tim Lewis' head and off the left field wall. The rocket off Towns' bat was came less than two feet from clearing the wall. His first triple of the season scored both Fisher and McCarthy to push U.Va.'s advantage to 3-0.

"I was just hoping it went over (Lewis') head," Towns said. "That's all I really cared about."

U.Va.'s early scoring bonanza may have helped calm Sborz, who has started 13 of his 15 appearances this season, down on the mound. After entering the game having given up 35 walks in 64 innings this season, Sborz walked two of the first three Maryland batters he faced, but escaped the first inning by inducing a double play off the bat of Jose Cuas.

It was the last time Sborz would struggle all night.

"That double play was huge," O'Connor said. "I think it had so much to do with his confidence that he could attack them. I'll say this about Josh Sborz, he certainly has his wild streaks at times, but he always keeps the game in check."

Sborz got back on track by striking out two batters in both the second and third innings. He had at least one strikeout in five of his last six innings pitched.

"I basically took (the game) as a reliever, just get one inning done and then think about the next," Sborz said. "I really only had two pitches (Monday), but I was keeping the ball down most of the time and I knew I had a good defense behind me, so it was pretty easy just to attack and let them hit the ball."