There's something to be said for having your back against a wall. Then again, there's also something to be said for having to win just one game, not two.
Both Virginia and Vanderbilt find themselves in the latter position, having yet to lose in this College World Series. Both will be quite pleased to be there. And don't be surprised when the two schools meet in the finals.
It shouldn't be a surprise either team is here. The Cavaliers finished with the second-best record in the ACC this past season, trailing only Miami in the regular season. They struggled in the ACC tournament, going 1-2 in pool play, meaning they went into the postseason having lost four of six.
But they've certainly turned things around since then, going 7-1 in the postseason. Only Maryland beat them in the Super Regional. Pitchers like Artie Lewicki (3-0 in 14.1 innings pitched this postseason with a save and no runs allowed), Brandon Waddell (2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 postseason innings) and Nathan Kirby (1-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 19.2 postseason innings) have led the charge.
For the tournament, Virginia has a sparkling 1.50 ERA. Its pitching has fueled it and should be the catalyst for a trip to the finals.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has hit the cover off the ball. Its .312 average and 59 runs have left opposing pitchers whispering obscenities into their mitts, and what's even more impressive is that the Commodores' blitzkrieg has gone off without the team hitting a single home run.
How do they do it? They steal bases like bandits, for starters, nabbing 20 in 25 tries. They ripped 19 doubles and a triple. They've been patient at the plate, earning an impressive 45 walks. Take a look at the stat leaders and you'll see quite a few Vanderbilt players near or at the top.
Dansby Swanson leads the tournament with 14 runs scored and has accumulated an impressive 13 hits, six of which were doubles. Bryan Reynolds has smacked an impressive 16 hits, nine RBI and scored eight runs. John Norwood has nine RBI and four steals, while Xavier Turner and Zander Wiel have eight ribbies (Turner also has five steals).
All through the lineup, the Commodores have gotten major contributions. From top to bottom, this team is deadly at the plate.
Vanderbilt, like Virginia, has cruised through this tournament, going 7-1 (Stanford was the lone team to beat them in the Super Regional, and that came off of a Wayne Taylor walk-off homer).
It hasn't been easy for either team, of course. Virginia is coming off of a 15-inning thriller against TCU, a game that had manager Brian O'Connor more relieved than anything else.
"You've got to string hits together, you've got to find a break in this World Series these days, because these games are just tough to win," he told Eric Olson of the Associated Press, via NCAA.com.
Assuming Virginia can keep stringing those hits together, it'll be tough to beat given the pitching staff it has. Good pitching generally trumps good hitting, after all.
But Vanderbilt would argue, were these teams to meet in the final, that its offense is better than Virginia has seen thus far. And Vanderbilt also has some history to overcome, as Nick Cole of DNJ.com wrote:
When Tim Corbin took over the Vanderbilt baseball program in 2003, the Commodores celebrated making the SEC tournament for the first time in seven years.
Eleven seasons later, Corbin has the Commodores one win from competing for the first men’s national championship in more than 120 years of Vanderbilt athletic competition.
The 2003 men’s tennis team lost in the NCAA championship, and the 2007 women’s bowling team remains the school’s only national champion.
For two teams that have lost just once in this tournament, one more win should be that major hurdle to overcome, especially when you consider that Virginia has arguably pitched better than any team in the tournament and Vanderbilt has arguably had the best offense.
A final between these two teams would be the perfect clash of styles and an entertaining, fun watch. And luckily for college baseball fans, it's the final we'll likely get.
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