College World Series preview: Virginia

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

The Cavaliers won a bunch of elimination games to return to familiar ground in Omaha and the college baseball World Series.

Nate Savino photo courtesy of James Motter/Virginia athletics.

Virginia Cavaliers (35-25)

RPI: 28 (No. 11 strength of schedule)

League finish: Third in ACC Coastal

Coach: Brian O'Connor (749-317-2, 18th season at Virginia)

CWS appearance: fifth

National titles: 2015

Virginia has been on the brink of elimination since April.

The Cavaliers were 4-13 in ACC after five straight series losses to North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame, Pitt and Miami, and a series-opening loss at Georgia Tech. Virginia rebounded to win the Easter weekend series in Atlanta and closed the season with a 14-6 mark in its last 20 ACC games.

Virginia continued that magic in the post-season by winning six straight elimination games at the NCAA tournament to advance to the College World Series for the first time since it hoisted the championship trophy in 2015.

Virginia became the third team since the NCAA baseball tournament expanded to 64 teams to advance to the College World Series after losing its opening game in the regional and super regional rounds, joining Rice in 1999 and Florida State in 2008 as teams to win six elimination games on the road to Omaha.

While six straight elimination games wins is pretty remarkable, it defines who this team really is. It followed a similar path to the title in 2015.

The Cavaliers lost four of their first six ACC series that season, including sweeps by Virginia Tech and Louisville. The 'Hoos won three of their last four series and swept the NCAA Lake Elsinore Regional before sweep Maryland in the Charlottesville Super Regional.

Head coach Brian O’Connor is one of three people to appear in the College World Series as player, assistant coach and head coach. The Council Bluffs, Iowa native played at Creighton and was a member of the Bluejays team that played in the 1991 CWS. He was an assistant coach at Notre Dame under Paul Mainieri when the Fighting Irish played in the 2002 CWS. George Horton and David Esquer are the other two to reach the CWS as player, assistant coach and head coach.

The lineup (Estimated runs created every 27 outs per a Bill James formula in parenthesis. The Cavaliers will face Virginia lefty Christian MacLeod.)

1. Zack Gelof (R), 3B (8.3) vs. LHP: .298/.333/.414

2. Max Cotier (L), 2B (4.5) vs LHP: .277/.319/.289

3. Kyle Teel (L), RF (9.0) vs. LHP: .286/.353/.455

4. Devin Ortiz (R), DH (6.4) vs LHP: .383/.432/.817

5. Nic Kent (R), SS (5.6) vs. LHP: .188/.283/.362

6. Alex Tappen (R), LF (5.4) vs. LHP: .373/.471/.644

7. Jake Gelof (R), 1B (5.8) vs LHP: 217/.333/.414

8. Logan Michaels (R), C (4.8) vs. LHP: .263/.354.33

9. Chris Newell (L), CF (5.1) vs. LHP: .222/.305/.361

Res Brendan Rivoli (L), LF (5.2) vs. LHP: .258/.338/.286

Res Marc Lebreux (L), LF/CF/RF (4.7), vs. LHP: .417/.462/.417

Res Christian Hlinka (L), RF/LF (4.1), vs LHP: .400/.500/.400

Virginia has the lowest team batting average among the eight teams in Omaha. The Cavaliers rank ninth in the ACC with a .263 average this season. Virginia is third in the ACC in total hits (537), fourth in runs scored (343) and 12th in home runs (46).

Four players have accounted for the majority of the long balls this season. Teel (nine), Gelof (nine), Ortiz (eight) and Kent (eight) have hit 34 of the team’s 46 home runs.

The Cavaliers have a flair for the dramatics in their post-season run. The last three wins against Old Dominion and Dallas Baptist have all had late-inning drama.

Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to send UVa to the Super Regionals with a 4-3 win over ODU in the Columbia Regional. Then in the Super Regionals, the Cavaliers struck again. Gelof (solo HR) and Tappen (3-run HR) both homered in the eighth inning to lift Virginia to a 4-0 win over DBU in game two of the series. Teel belted a game-winning grand slam in the seventh inning against Dallas Baptist on Monday. He had struck out against the same pitcher (Peyton Sherlin) on Saturday in a one-run loss to DBU.

The team can play small ball, too. Virginia leads the ACC with 35 sacrifice bunts. Cotier (eight), Michaels (six) and Newell (five) lead the team in that category.

Pitching

SP1 Andrew Abbott (L) 106.2 IP, 9-6, 2.87 ERA, 1.18 base runners allowed/inning, 9% free pass rate, 37% K (threw 104 pitches on 6-20)

SP2* Mike Vasil (R) 74.2 IP, 7-5, 4.82 ERA, 1.59 BRIP, 6% FP, 19% BB

SP3 Nate Savino (L)  53.2 IP, 3-3, 3.86 ERA, 1.17 BRIP, 9% FP, 14% K

SP4 Griff McGarry (R) 35.2 IP, 0-5, 6.06 ERA, 2.05 BRIP, 25% FP, 35% K

CL Stephen Schoch (R) 35.2 IP, 4-1, 8 sv, 2.52 ERA, 1.40 BRIP, 14% FP, 33% K

RP1 Zach Messinger (R) 56.1 IP, 3-2, 4.31 ERA, 1.31 BRIP, 11% FP, 27% K

RP2 Brandon Neeck (L) 23.1 IP, 2-0, 1.93, 1.41 BRIP, 13% FP, 39% K

RP3 Kyle Whitten (R) 30.2 IP, 0-1, 1 sv, 3.23 ERA, 1.66 BRIP, 15% FP, 26% K

RP4 Matt Wyatt (R) 35.2 IP, 4-1, 1 sv, 3.49 ERA, 1.47 BRIP, 14% FP, 29% K (45 / 6-21)

RP5 Blake Bales (R) 38 IP, 3-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.92 BRIP, 13% FP, 39% K

The Cavaliers have been open to throwing almost anyone at any time lately other than Abbott, the team's ace. 

Abbott leads the ACC with 152 strikeouts. He is second in the league in ERA (3.04) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.54). He also leads the ACC with 16 starts. The Cavaliers are 10-6 in his 16 starts this season and won nine straight games when Abbott started from starts from March 27-May 29.

The post-season has been a different story for Abbott. He is 0-1 with a 6.74 ERA in two starts against South Carolina and Dallas Baptist. He has allowed eight earned runs and 12 hits in 10 2/3 innings in the NCAA Tournament. He has 14 strikeouts and two walks.

Vasil, who out of high school was considered a potential first-round prospect, was the team's No. 2 starter all year but threw just two innings in his regional start (a 13-8 win over Jacksonville on June 5), and threw one inning to close out Virginia's first-game loss to Dallas Baptist in the super regional. Before that, Vasil's last appearance was May 29, a 4 1/3-inning start against Duke in the ACC tournament during which he allowed four runs. Virginia was 9-5 in his 14 starts this season.

The bullpen has seen the majority of innings in the postseason. The relievers have covered almost 36 innings in the NCAA Tournament. The bullpen has six wins and one save in the tournament.

Neeck recorded 16 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in the win over Old Dominion to force the if necessary in the Columbia Regional. He recorded 17 outs in the game, with 16 coming via strikeouts. Neeck and McGarry combined for 24 strikeouts in the win over ODU.

Wyatt earned the win over Dallas Baptist in the Super Regional clincher on Monday. He held DBU to two hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and two walks.

Schoch was the main man out of the pen in the Columbia Regional, earning wins against South Carolina (2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 ) and Old Dominion (3.1 IP, 2 H 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K) in the championship game. He threw a season-high 75 pitches against ODU and did not see action in the Super Regional.

The Cavaliers also relied less on the nearly-unhittable Bales (.138 average against, one home run allowed) as the postseason arrived. Bales has appeared just three times, throwing 2 1/3 innings since May 14, and has thrown just nine pitches across one appearance (June 6) in the NCAA Tournament. 

McGarry has made two starts in the post-season. He had the best outing by a Cavalier starter in a no-decision (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K) against Dallas Baptist.