Virginia's 10 Greatest Games of the 2008-09 Season

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Virginia's 10 Greatest Games of the 2008-09 Season

The University of Virginia may have had a down year in its major revenue sports, the season was far from lost.

The Cavaliers finished eighth in the Director's Cup, which is a culmination of all the different collegiate sports.  They also picked up six ACC titles.

As a result, we also had some of the most compelling games in a long time.

With over 20 different men's and women's programs and so many amazing moments, it was hard to pick the top ten games of the season. 

It was even harder to rank them.

After all, does the importance of the sport outweigh the game itself?  What about the importance it had to the program?  Was the game itself great or the situation around it?

I did my best to weigh all of these factors.

Without further ado, here's the list:


10. Men's Basketball vs. Clemson: 85-81 (OT)

With a 20-3 record and a No. 12 ranking, the Tigers appeared to be in great shape heading into Charlottesville.

Last year they embarassed the Cavaliers, winning by 30 points in their John Paul Jones arena debut.

With an eight-game losing streak, this version of the Cavaliers appeared to be no real challenge to break that trend.

The Cavaliers came out hot early and that was enough to hold an eight-point lead at half.  However, Clemson responded with a 14-0 run to take a 39-33 lead and Virginia's upset bid appeared over.

Instead Virginia battled back, keeping the game close. 

Using a big supporting effort by freshman guard Sammy Zeglinski and forward Mike Scott the Cavaliers were able to match the offensive prowess of the Tigers.

In the end though it was freshman sensation Sylven Landesberg.  Six of his team-high 23 points came in overtime, capping off a final drive in the waning seconds that tied the game at 74-74 in regulation.

Landesberg had similarly taken over the game in Virginia's only other ACC win at that point against Georgia Tech.  The freshman put on a show and was able to salvage one shining moment from a dismal season.


9. Women's Basketball vs. Tennessee: 83-82

The women's basketball program at Virginia had fallen into obscurity in recent memory.

Gone were the memories of Dawn Staley taking the Cavaliers to the championship game.

Those winning dreams were crushed by the Tennessee Volunteers.  A bitter rivalry had developed between Virginia coach Debbie Ryan and Volunteer coach Pat Summitt.

However, when Virginia discontinued its series with the Connecticut Huskies, it needed a new premier program for it's non-conference schedule.

So Virginia took the short trip to Knoxville to take on a team that had lost only 18 times at home since the arena opened in 1987.

Young and inexperienced as the Volunteers may have been, no one expected Virginia to win this game.  However, they forgot to inform junior guard Monica Wright of that fact. 

Wright had her coming out party on a big stage, scoring a career-high 35 points. 

However, the game was ultimately won by a role player named Britnee Milner.

The scrappy player converted the huge free throw with 6.4 seconds on the clock after Wright had tied the game at 82-82 to give Virginia the one-point lead.

The win may be diminished considering how Tennessee would fare the rest of the season, but it was a large statement that the Cavaliers could compete with any team in the country.

Something we would learn with No. 8.

 

8. Women's Basketball vs. Maryland: 89-81

Since 2001, when it came to the big three (UMD, UNC, and Duke), Virginia simply had no chance.

The Cavaliers had lost their spot on the top tier and they had no chance of getting it back unless it could finally knock off one of these perennial powers.

The best chance for that came when the Terrapins visited the JPJA in a big home contest for the Cavaliers.

Just so happened, Virginia had a big three of their own.  Wright, alongside center Aisha Mohammad and the increasingly versatile Lyndra Littles provided an offensive force that few in the country could match.

The three combined for 77 of Virginia's 89 total points.

However, their biggest moment came in the second half when they were down by 13 and appeared to be on their way to another meltdown against the Big Three in the ACC.

Instead, Littles and Wright put on a show.  The two helped not only erase the deficit but put up a 10-point edge of their own.

The Cavaliers shot nearly 54 percent in the second half and came away with their biggest win of the season.

The mark gave Virginia confidence that they could go toe-to-toe with any team in the ACC.

More importantly, it built a foundation for one of the strongest recruiting classes Debbie Ryan has ever assembled to work on.


7. Football vs. Georgia Tech: 24-17

As abysmal as the Virginia football program was at points last season, let's not forget that they were the No. 1 team in the coastal division standings heading into November.

That was made possible by a fateful day in October.

With the injuries to both Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor against Florida State, the Hokies appeared in trouble at 3-2 in the ACC.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were in Atlanta facing a red hot Yellow Jacket team that flew out to an early 14-3 lead in the first quarter.

Game over?  Not quite.

Virginia quarterback Marc Verica, with only a few starts under his belt, showed poise under pressure, using his skill players to get the Cavaliers back in it.

Verica connected with Kevin Ogletree in the middle of the second quarter to erase the deficit to four.  Then he found Maurice Covington in the third to take the lead.

Meanwhile, the Virginia defense had tightened up brilliantly after a bad first quarter.

Georgia Tech did not help their cause either, Yellow Jacket QB Jonathan Dwyer had two fumbles in the second half.  Both turnovers were in Virginia territory.

The final turnover, that was an interception by Vic Hall to seal the win.

Verica finished the game 29-of-39 for 270 yards with two touchdowns but also two interceptions, a precursor of things to come.

Virginia continued to use the ground game of Peerman as well, his game-winning score showed the grit and determination of a senior looking for a storybook ending to his career.

 

6. Men's Soccer vs. Wake Forest: 3-2 (2 OT)

Virginia's men soccer entered the ACC tournament as an afterthought.

The Cavaliers were seeded fourth but had terrible injury problems that had kept them from reaching their full potential.

In the semi-finals they were given the unfortunate task of taking on the undefeated Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Ranked No. 1 in the country, the Deacons had already defeated the Cavaliers one week ago 2-0.

However, none of that mattered on a rainy night in Cary, N.C.

Chase Neiken scored the go-ahead goal for the Cavaliers with less than eight minutes remaining but the Demon Deacons responded in 89th minute to force the game into overtime.

In the extra session, defender Matt Poole was given a penalty kick opportunity after Wake's Nick Courtney fouled Brian Ownby of the Cavaliers.

Poole, taking over the penalty kick spot that Yannick Reyering had left behind, took full advantage and hit the game-winning shot.

The loss knocked Wake Forest from perfection and gave Virginia a great deal of confidence heading into the postseason.

Although Virginia would lose the ACC Championship game against eventual national champion Maryland, the depleted Cavaliers posted a great win to give the program momentum heading into next season.

5. Men's Lacrosse vs. Maryland: 10-9 (7 OT)

While the game was not always pretty, it certainly was memorable.

Virginia lacrosse was in a desperate situation.  After defeating the Duke Blue Devils earlier in the season, Maryland was in position to deny the Cavaliers the top seed in the ACC tournament with a victory at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville.

The Cavaliers were not as sharp as they had been earlier in the season, particularly on offense.

However, goalie Adam Ghitelman could not have been better for Virginia on this day.

While his teammates had trouble clearing the ball or even getting off a shot in the wet field conditions, Ghitelman was the rock that Virginia desperately needed. 

With 22 saves and a key penalty that saved a sure-fire goal for the Terps, it was the goalie who allowed "Big Shot" Brian Carroll to add to his legacy of overtime winning shots.

Last season, Carroll knocked out Johns Hopkins and Syracuse but this shot helped cap off the longest game in college lacrosse history.

Virginia would go on to the Final Four where it lost to Cornell, but Cavalier fans will always remember the drama and intrigue of a seven-overtime thriller.


4. Football vs. UNC: 16-13 (OT)

The Tar Heels had not won in Charlottesville since 1981, but this appeared to be the year to turn things around.

North Carolina was coming in with a national ranking and a talented offense assembled by coach Butch Davis.  Although the Tar Heels had lost in 2007, it was a failed two-point conversion which cost them a chance at overtime.

The near miss fueled them, but Virginia was not ready to lay down and die.

The Cavaliers had been left for dead by everyone after a 31-3 dismantling by Duke.  However, after thumping Maryland 31-0 and a victory over media darling East Carolina, Virginia had begun to play some solid football.

Carolina came out fast with a touchdown by Ryan Houston after a nice pass by Cameron Sexton put them at the one-yard line.

Virginia's defense locked down after that and only allowed three more points in regulation.

Good thing too, because the Cavalier offense was anemic.

Through 57 minutes and 42 seconds, Virginia had amassed 168 yards of offense.

So who would have guessed inexperienced Marc Verica would lead an 82-yard drive in the final two minutes to tie the game and force overtime?

Verica simply could not miss when it mattered most and willed his team towards the endzone where Cedric Peerman put it away.

In overtime, Virginia held Carolina to three points and then a long pass from Verica to tight end John Phillips set up Peerman for the winning two-yard run.

The win did two equally important things. 

First, it energized the Virginia fan base and allowed the Cavalier fans to celebrate their biggest win of the season.

Second, it demoralized a Carolina team off to its best start since 1997 and continued the Cavalier winning streak in Charlottesville.


3. Baseball vs. Florida State: 6-3

Since the arrival of coach Brian O'Connor, Virginia baseball has gone from the garbage heap to the penthouse.

O'Connor has produced one of the most consistent programs at the University.

Oh yeah, except he never won the big game.

Sure, O'Connor could get his team to the NCAA tournament, they just could never advance.

Sure, O'Connor could get his team to the ACC Championship game, he just couldn't win.

Certainly his youngest team in years that was not even ranked before the season started could not buck that trend.

Right?

Well, the Cavaliers entered the ACC baseball tournament seeded sixth.  Their 19-0 start to the season had gained them attention but they had to prove they could win the big game, and particularly the close one.

Well Virginia beat Clemson 5-4 in the opener and then proceeded to proverbially punch the Carolina Tar Heels in the mouth with an 11-1 mercy rule victory.

After a comeback victory against Duke, it was on to the championship game with the Seminoles.

The Cavaliers were here last year, losing 8-4 to the Miami Hurricanes.

When the Seminoles scored two runs in the first it appeared Virginia would meet a similar fate.  However, a strong relief outing by Matt Packer and Tyler Wilson held Florida State scoreless for over five innings allowed the Cavaliers to come back and tie the game at 3-3.

In the ninth, freshman John Hicks hit the biggest base hit of his life for the go-ahead run and an insurance run to boot.  Hicks had not exactly shined during the tournament but his big hit was followed by another RBI for all-tournament catcher Franco Valdes giving Virginia a 6-3 lead.

The lead was more than enough for Kevin Arrico who notched the save and Virginia captured only the second ACC baseball title in school history.

The win gave Virginia six ACC titles, the most of any ACC program that year and tied for most in school history.

 

2. Men's Tennis vs. Georgia: 4-1

Coach Brian Boland has done just about everything at Virginia.

In 2008, Virginia tennis claimed its first national championship with an indoor title.

However, in tennis it's the outdoor title that is the standard for champions.

The Cavaliers had gone undefeated the entire season reaching the Final Four.

There they did battle with the Georgia Bulldogs.

You see, as great as Virginia has been against the rest of the country, they had never beaten the Bulldogs

In 2008, it would be no different.  A hot day full of cramping and tension led to a 4-3 Georgia victory.

In 2009, Virginia once again faced Georgia.  This time in the finals of the indoor national championship.

The Cavaliers were able to capture the valuable doubles point, just like they had done in their last meeting.

Without three starters from last season, including the all-time UVA great Somdev Devvarman, Virginia put on a show for the ages.

Houston Barrick took care of business quickly 6-4, 6-0 but the Bulldogs answered right back with knocking out top seeded Cavalier Dom Inglot.

In response, it was two freshman for Virginia that would clinch the match.

Steven Rooda won in straight sets and Drew Courtney responded after losing the first set 6-0 to take the match and the victory.

The win was a statement that Virginia desperately needed to make.

By getting the monkey off their back, the Cavaliers would once again enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. 

Though their season once again ended prematurely, this time to the USC Trojans, Virginia continues to be a program on the verge of an outdoor national championship.

If they do, expect the win over the Bulldogs to have served as the confidence needed to bring them championship glory.

 

1. Baseball vs. Ole Miss

Virginia baseball was already on cloud nine.

The Cavaliers had survived the "Region of Death" for their first ever appearance in the Super Regionals.

Their reward was a trip to Oxford, MS., one of the toughest places to play baseball in the country.

Virginia was kicking themselves after throwing away the first game on two costly errors that led to two runs for the Rebels.

Ole Miss was not feeling any better after game two where an error of their own in the eighth inning led to a decisive, winner-take-all contest on Sunday.

The Cavaliers had already used their two aces Danny Hultzen and Robert Morey, so coach Brian O'Connor was left to implement a pitcher-by-committee approach.

Robert Poutier began the game and recovered from a tough start where the Cavaliers gave up the opening run for the second straight game in the first.

Phil Gosselin helped tie the game by using the "small ball" gameplan that has typified Virginia baseball.

Gosselin singled and stole second without a throw before a Dan Grovatt walk and double steal.

John Hicks was able to sacrifice and let Gosselin get the key run.

Then the fifth inning turned into a comedy of errors where Virginia scored three runs off costly fielding mistakes by Ole Miss.

The pressure of having to win a regional after three straight close losses at home began to weigh on the Rebels and an insurance run in the eighth gave Virginia a 5-1 edge that they would not relinquish.

The victory gave Virginia their first ever appearance in the College World Series and gained the program and unprecedented amount of exposure and respect.

For a program that was almost eliminated in 2001, the Virginia baseball team put on a spring to remember.  After the football and basketball seasons, Cavaliers needed a team to believe in and the baseball team filled the role beautifully.

Coach O'Connor took a bunch of kids that no one believed in and got them to believe in each other.

The result was the greatest season in the program's history and it culminated one fateful day in Oxford.

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