CHARLOTTESVILLE — For all its success in recent years, the Virginia baseball team’s approach is more blue collar than breathtaking. Its pitchers methodically pound the strike zone, its fielders avoid errors and its hitters are opportunistic. The margin for error can be small, but the results have been overwhelming.
A familiar formula produced a familiar outcome this weekend, and now a familiar foe awaits.
No. 1 seed Virginia used one big rally and another strong performance on the mound to earn a 9-2 win over No. 2 seed Arkansas at Davenport Field on Sunday and advance to the super regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament for the fifth time in six years.
The Cavaliers (47-13) will take on Maryland (39-21) next weekend in Charlottesville in a best-of-three series with a berth in the College World Series on the line. It will be the final time the two schools compete head-to-head as conference rivals with the Terrapins joining the Big Ten on July 1.
Maryland, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1971, completed a surprising 3-0 surge through the Columbia, S.C., regional with a decisive 10-1 win over top-seeded South Carolina on Sunday, just more than 24 hours after ending the Gamecocks’ 28-game home winning streak in the postseason.
Virginia was similarly impressive after a 1-2 showing in last week’s ACC tournament, which included a 7-6 loss to the Terrapins in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Virginia allowed just three runs in three wins during this weekend’s regional and watched a sporadic offense produce in bunches when it counted most.
“All three [starters] . . . were able to get into a really good rhythm, and they didn’t really come out of it,” catcher Nate Irving said. “We were able to take momentum in all three games and keep it on our side, and that’s a credit to our starting pitching.”
Sunday’s game changed for good during a six-run third inning. Virginia loaded the bases with one out, batted around and chased Razorbacks starter Zach Jackson. Third baseman John La Prise scored the game’s first run after first baseman Mike Papi walked with the bases loaded, and right fielder Joe McCarthy followed with an RBI single on a sharp grounder that Arkansas third baseman Clark Eagan couldn’t handle.
Junior left fielder Derek Fisher (2 for 4, four RBI), connected on a two-run single on the next pitch. La Prise (7 for 13 in the regional) soon delivered a two-run single, and the Cavaliers suddenly had a commanding lead. Every run came with two outs.
“We’re one pitch from getting out of that jam,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn lamented.
Arkansas (40-25) lost to Virginia, 3-0 , on Saturday night and battled back into the regional final with a 10-0 victory over No. 4 seed Bucknell on Sunday afternoon. But the Razorbacks could manage only a two-out, two-run home run in the seventh inning by designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson against Virginia starter Brandon Waddell.
Reliever Whit Mayberry (St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes) shut the door on any comeback attempt, and the Cavaliers added three more runs in the ninth inning.
“There’s just different guys throughout our entire lineup that everybody has confidence in,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said. “There were huge expectations going into the season and all year long, and I’m really glad we played great fundamental baseball this weekend.”
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