Virginia beat the seemingly-immortal Stephen Strasburg in the Regionals last week, so they’re confident that playing on the road in the Super Regionals won’t pose as big a problem as people think.
In fact, Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor almost sees it as an advantage for his team, with the majority of the pressure squarely on Mississippi when the Oxford Super Regional begins on Friday.
“When you play at home, all the pressure is on you because you are supposed to advance,” O’Connor said. “Everybody just assumes that because you host, you are supposed to move on.
“Are the odds a lot greater that when you do host a Super Regional you move on? Sure, six out of eight teams every year in Omaha host Super Regionals, but for this team, I think it is good that we are going on the road,” he added. “They have had that attitude all year long that they have something to prove and I think they are comfortable away from here. I don’t think that there is anything they will back down from and this weekend is no different.”
Backing down against Ole Miss pitchers seemed commonplace in the Regionals, where Rebels’ starters were dominant. Led by Drew Pomeranz (2-0, 0.53 ERA, 26 K in 17 IP), the rotation – with Phillip Irwin and Brett Bukvich – has 42 strikeouts compared to just three walks in 28.2 innings pitched in the NCAAs.
Virginia (45-12-1) won’t back down – not with a collective .331 batting average this season. All but one of the regular starters in the lineup hit above .300, and the one that doesn’t, is hitting at a .292 clip.
Its deep and talented offense may not even be its strength, as Ole Miss (43-18) isn’t the only team in the Oxford Super Regional that can dominate on the mound. Just take a look at Virginia’s 3.19 team ERA this season. It’s been even better in the Regionals.
The trio of Danny Hultsen, Andrew Carraway and Robert Morey allowed only one earned run in a combined 20.1 innings in three games (all wins) in the previous round. Two of those victories came against the No. 6 national seed UC Irvine, which finished the season ranked first in national polls.
“Confidence in the game of baseball is everything because it is completely built around failure,” O’Connor said. “So if you believe in yourself and your team, you have accomplished a big part of the challenge.
“What we accomplished in Irvine is something really special that they won’t forget immediately and they won’t forget for the rest of their lives.”
Led by Dan Grovatt and Jarrett Parker – both hitting .378 this season – Virginia won’t be satisfied if their run ends here. The Ole Miss lineup is strong, too, hitting .315 as a team – but the Rebels don’t impose as much power at the plate.
But as usual, this series will come down to pitching. The key for the home-team Rebels will be whether Pomeranz can continue his dominance and closer Jake Morgan can forget about his disastrous outing (0 IP, 5 R) that cost his team their one loss in the Regionals.
For Virginia, O’Connor just wants his team to relax, play with continued confidence and let all the pressure be felt by the Rebels.
Strasburg didn’t faze his team, so O’Connor is confident that will happen.
OXFORD SUPER REGIONAL
June 5-7 | Oxford, Miss.
Game 1: Virginia vs. Mississippi, 2 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN360.com)
Game 2: Mississippi vs. Virginia, Noon p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN360.com)
Sunday (if necessary)
Game 3: Virginia vs. Mississippi, 3 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN360.com)