CHARLOTTESVILLE — The ball rocketed toward left field like a cruise missile, bouncing off the top of the outfield wall before Maryland junior Tim Lewis could even complete his leaping attempt at catching it. The crowd roared, two runs scored and Virginia’s bench emptied in celebration only minutes after the first pitch had been thrown.
Lewis, meanwhile, had no glove on his right hand. It had fallen into the gap between the wall and bleachers in left field at Davenport Field. Only when a Cavaliers administrator ran to retrieve it could play resume.
This was how the biggest game in Maryland baseball history began, and it ended with Virginia players dog-piling on top of one another near the mound before climbing atop that same left field wall in jubilation. The Cavaliers had secured another trip to the College World Series in Omaha with an 11-2 victory over the Terrapins in the deciding Game 3 of this NCAA super regional series.
Virginia (49-14) will begin its third appearance in the College World Series on Sunday night against Mississippi. The Cavaliers, who also won super regionals in 2009 and 2011, are the highest national seed left in this year’s NCAA tournament field.
To get there, though, Virginia had to deal with the pesky Terrapins, who had shocked college baseball by advancing to their first super regional series just one week after earning their first NCAA tournament berth since 1971. Maryland (40-23) then left the Cavaliers on the brink of elimination with a 5-4 win in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon.
But nothing went the underdog’s way the past two games, not like it had when the Terrapins magically ripped off 15 wins in 17 games over the past month. They could muster just two runs on a double by Blake Schmit in the eighth inning Monday, unable to solve Virginia starter Josh Sborz.
Maryland Coach John Szefc also made the unorthodox decision to start junior Bobby Ruse, normally the team’s most reliable reliever, instead of ERA leader Jake Drossner. Ruse had started just three times this season, and not since April 9.
The move proved disastrous when Virginia scored three runs off the mustachioed right-hander during a two-out rally in the first inning, using an RBI single from Derek Fisher and the two-run triple by Kenny Towns that sent Lewis searching for his glove to take an early 3-0 lead.
“We ran into what very well may be the national champion, at home in their park,” Szefc said. “I haven’t seen a team like that in 13 years.”
Even before the night began, though, Szefc knew his team had made definitive progress during a season that included the program’s first NCAA tournament win and a school-record 40 wins.
“As we continue to build this program . . . this group will really be one that’s looked back on as a cornerstone of that process, and I think every Maryland baseball team in the future will look back on this one and try to aim where this team ended, and obviously slightly further,” he said. “But this will be a hard group of guys to duplicate.”
Virginia entered the year with the sort of lofty expectations this burgeoning power had never dealt with before — a No. 1 preseason ranking and a roster featuring eight players drafted in this week’s MLB draft. And after an underwhelming performance at the plate during the regular season, Virginia’s offense had 30 hits combined in its two super regional wins over Maryland.
Towns, an undrafted junior from Lake Braddock High, finished 3 for 4 with four RBI Monday, including a two-run single in a three-run third inning that allowed the Cavaliers to cruise the rest of the game. Branden Cogswell and Daniel Pinero drove in two runs apiece during Virginia’s five-run eighth inning.
“This is as good as the 2011 team, and there’s areas where I think this is better than the 2011 team,” Cavaliers Coach Brian O’Connor said. “The quality and depth of our pitching is the best it’s been, and that lineup — one through nine — is pretty special.”
Sborz, meanwhile, hadn’t started in nearly a month and issued two walks in the first inning. But the McLean High graduate found his groove after escaping the jam with a double play. Using a fastball that hit 97 mph at one point, Sborz struck out nine batters and allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings.
By the time he exited, emerging from the dugout to tip his cap when the sold-out crowd clamored for a curtain call, it had long since become clear this night belonged to Virginia.
“It felt amazing,” Sborz said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a better experience than that in my life.”
Pinch hitter Holt Perdzock hit a two-run double in the ninth inning and Mississippi ended a 42-year College World Series drought by punching its ticket to Omaha with a 10-4 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the deciding game of the Lafayette (La.) Super Regional.
A throwing error on Perdzock’s double allowed another run to score and J.B. Woodman’s sacrifice fly scored Perdzock to complete the Rebels’ four-run rally.
Scott Weathersby (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings for Mississippi (46-19) and Josh Laxer picked up his sixth save, allowing only an unearned run in 31 / 3 innings.
Austin Anderson and Sikes Orvis homered in the Rebels’ three-run fourth.
The Ragin’ Cajuns(58-10) lost back-to-back games for the first time all season. Starter Cody Boutte (9-1) went four innings, giving up four runs on five hits. ULL pitchers issued eight walks and hit three batters.
●TCU 6, PEPPERDINE 5: Kyle Bacak executed a suicide squeeze bunt to send home the tiebreaking run in the top of the ninth inning and the Horned Dogs rallied for the win in Fort Worth to advance to the College World Series for the second time in five seasons.
TCU (47-16), the visiting team in Game 3 despite hosting the super regional, started the ninth with three consecutive hits off Pepperdine closer Eric Karch that included Dylan Fitzgerald’s game-tying double.
There was an infield popout before No. 9 batter Bacak bunted. Jerrick Suiter, who had reached on a high-chopping infield single, charged home from third.
Pepperdine (43-18) had two runners on when Bryan Langlois struck out to end the game.
The Frogs play Sunday against fellow Big 12 team Texas Tech.
News services contributed to this report.