Virginia and Mississippi State won Game 3s in their super regionals Monday and became the last two teams to clinch spots in the College World Series.
The Cavaliers staved off elimination for the sixth time in eight NCAA Tournament games, beating Dallas Baptist 5-2 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Bulldogs won 11-7 over Notre Dame, breaking the game open with a six-run second inning in Starkville, Mississippi.
Virginia's fifth trip to the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska, was hard-earned. The Cavs lost their opening games in regionals and super regionals, and they bounced back each time with a team that had no players with previous experience in the national tournament.
“I’ll tell you what this team has accomplished and the opportunity they have now is just incredibly special," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. “This is our fifth trip, and I've got to tell you, they're all joyous. They’re all wonderful. They’re all unique in their own way. But this one, I tell you, the route that this team has taken speaks to the character and the resiliency and the type of young men we have in this program.”
The CWS starts Saturday with No. 9 national seed Stanford (38-15) playing North Carolina State (35-18), followed by No. 4 Vanderbilt (45-15) against No. 5 Arizona (45-16).
Sunday games match No. 3 Tennessee (50-16) against Virginia (35-25) and No. 2 Texas (47-15) against No. 7 Mississippi State (45-16).
Virginia played from behind until the seventh inning Monday. That's when freshman Kyle Teel hit a two-out grand slam to center field off Patriots closer Peyton Sherlin.
“When I hit the ball, I didn't think it was out. I thought I hit a deep flyout,” Teel said. “So very grateful for it to go over the fence.”
Sherlin had fooled Teel with a breaking pitch earlier in the at-bat, with Teel going almost to his knees as he swung. He didn’t fool him when he threw the same pitch on 2-2 count. Teel’s helmet nearly flew off as he turned on the ball.
“Kyle Teel is fearless,” O'Connor said, “and to win games at this elite level of baseball, you not only have to have skill, you can’t be afraid. You will crumble at times when pressure’s on if you're afraid. He's not afraid. He’s got 100 percent belief in his ability.”
Virginia, like fellow ACC member and CWS entry North Carolina State, is playing its best baseball after struggling early. The Cavs were 11-14 and 4-12 in ACC play on April 1. They are 24-11 since and have won 13 of their last 17.
They went into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 regional seed in Columbia, South Carolina. They lost to South Carolina in their opener before winning four straight, including two in a row over Old Dominion for the regional title.
Virginia stayed in Columbia for the super regional against Dallas Baptist and lost the first game. The Cavs then won two straight to advance to the CWS for the first time since they won the national championship in 2015.
Mississippi State faced four pitchers in the decisive second inning of its game, scoring on a fielder's choice, sacrifice fly and single before Logan Tanner hit a three-run homer for a 7-1 lead. The Bulldogs added four runs over the next three innings before the Irish's Niko Kavadas homered for the sixth time in six tournament games to make it 11-7 in the seventh.
Landon Sims allowed only two singles the rest of the way, and now the Bulldogs are off to its third straight CWS.
“Our best baseball is ahead of us,” Tanner said, “and we're going to get to Omaha and go after it.
“The culture around here is to win and to go as far as you can.”
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