Right-hander Matt Avery's complete-game shutout helped the Virginia baseball team oust Princeton from the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon, but hours later the top-seeded Cavaliers were themselves eliminated by Vanderbilt, which advanced to super regional play next weekend with a 7-3 win at Davenport Field.
Avery won, 9-0, in the best start of his two-year college career, prolonging what was arguably the best season in more than a century of Virginia baseball. But the Cavaliers (44-15) had nothing left for Vanderbilt, having already used their top three starting pitchers while fighting through the losers' bracket in this double-elimination tournament.
The Commodores (45-17), on the other hand, got to Sunday evening with a clean 2-0 record and still had third starter Matt Buschmann available. He pitched well into the seventh inning after a shaky start, while Virginia's collection of spot starters and long relievers was far less effective.
"That's the advantage of staying in the winners' bracket," said Brian O'Connor, the first-year coach who led the Cavaliers to their fourth NCAA berth. "It's really a big difference. It's difficult to take the route that we did, but I really felt like we had a chance."
O'Connor chose senior right-hander Chris Gale as his starter, hoping Gale would at least keep Virginia close until relievers Casey Lambert and Canon Hickman could take over. But Vanderbilt, the second seed in this region, pounded Gale for three runs in the top of the first and O'Connor quickly switched to Scott Morgenthaler.
The Cavaliers used their customary small-ball tactics -- two walks, an infield hit, three defensive errors and a sacrifice fly -- to tie the game in their half of the first, but Morgenthaler (1-1) let the Commodores pull ahead again with a run in the second.
The visitors led 6-3 when Virginia mounted its final threat, bringing senior slugger and ACC player of the year Joe Koshansky to the plate with two on and two out in the seventh. Vanderbilt pulled Buschmann (8-1) in favor of left-handed reliever Stephen Shao, a freshman making his first NCAA appearance, and Koshansky (Chantilly) worked the count to 2-1. He got the slider he expected and smacked a line drive, but second baseman Warner Jones took one step to his left and caught the ball to end the inning.
"I got my pitch and I did what I could with it," Koshansky said. "It just didn't work out."
Picked to finish seventh in the ACC, the Cavaliers were perhaps the biggest surprise in the nation this season, tying a program record with 44 wins. They led the conference for most of the season before finishing second by half a game -- the first time in nearly two decades they placed higher than fourth. They had reached the NCAA tournament only three previous times and never had hosted a regional or earned a No. 1 seed.
"There's no doubt we took a giant step forward this year," O'Connor said. "These players have captured this community and that is a big part of building a nationally powerful baseball program -- getting attendance and getting people to support your team. This community has rallied around this team, and I'm excited for the future."
Cavaliers Notes: Koshansky's 67 RBI and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's 90 hits this season are new Virginia records. Shortstop Mark Reynolds tied a record with 60 runs scored. . . . Avery, a Landon graduate, scattered four hits in Virginia's first complete-game shutout in 88 games dating from March 2003. . . . Vanderbilt designated hitter Cesar Nicolas was named the regional's most outstanding player, leading seven Commodores on the all-region team. Koshansky, Avery, Zimmerman, catcher Scott Headd and center fielder Tim Henry earned recognition for Virginia.