CHARLOTTESVILLE — Even Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor admits his pitching staff this year is wholly different than the ones that led the Cavaliers to the College World Series twice since 2009. There is no future first-round draft pick, or a true ace for that matter.
Through two games of the NCAA baseball tournament, though, O’Connor’s arms have proved to be postseason ready.
Top-seeded Virginia beat No. 3 seed Elon, 2-0, Saturday night at Davenport Field to advance to the Charlottesville regional final. The Cavaliers (49-10) will face the winner of Sunday afternoon’s elimination game between Elon and No. 2 seed UNC Wilmington at 6 with two chances to move on to next weekend’s super regional.
Olney native Scott Silverstein (St. John’s), a redshirt senior making his first career NCAA tournament start, held down a Phoenix lineup that scored eight or more runs 22 times this season. He tossed six scoreless innings before giving way to reliever Josh Sborz (McLean) and closer Kyle Crockett, who earned a two-inning save and struck out the side in the ninth inning for a second straight day.
“If it was the first year or the fifth year, this is the environment I want to play in,” said Silverstein, who improved to 10-1 this year.
Unlike Friday, when freshman Brandon Waddell and Crockett combined for a five-hitter in a 2-1 win over No. 4 seed Army, Silverstein never did retire Elon in order. But he seemed to relish pitching out of the stretch with runners on base.
The lefty’s deliberate pace slowed the Phoenix’s run game and he barely flinched when Elon loaded the bases in the third inning and had two men in scoring position with one out in the fifth inning.
“When we worked counts and had opportunities, he got better,” Elon Coach Mike Kennedy said of Silverstein. “We’d get guys on base and it was like a different guy.”
Virginia’s two fourth-inning runs came courtesy of consecutive RBI hits by third baseman Kenny Towns (Lake Braddock) and catcher Nate Irving after shortstop Nick Howard (St. John’s) legged out an infield single, stole second and advanced to third base on a wild pitch.
But Virginia has mostly been quieted at the plate after leading the ACC in hitting. Thus far, its pitching staff has ensured that remains a moot point.
“The sign of a really good ballclub is one that finds a way to win in different ways,” O’Connor said. “I feel good. You only score four runs and you’re 2-0.”
●VIRGINIA TECH 9, COASTAL CAROLINA 1: Junior right-hander Devin Burke ensured the Hokies’ season didn’t end as he tossed a complete game and allowed just five hits in an elimination game.
Virginia Tech (39-21) broke open a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and pulled away with a five-run ninth. It will have a rematch with No. 4 seed Connecticut on Sunday in another elimination game. The top-seeded and host Hokies would face No. 2 seed Oklahoma later in the day if they beat the Huskies.
●NORTH CAROLINA 8, TOWSON 5: Junior left-hander Kent Emanuel pitched into the eighth inning and Michael Russell drove in three runs as the Tar Heels, the No. 1 national seed, beat the visiting Tigers (30-29).
Towson came as close as 7-5 in the eighth inning on a bases-loaded single by Kurt Wertz. The Tigers’ next game is Sunday against Florida Atlantic.
●N.C. STATE 1, WILLIAM & MARY 0: Sophomore left-hander Carlos Rodon threw a two-hitter for the host Wolfpack (46-14) in a win over the Tribe. William & Mary (38-23) will play Mississippi on Sunday in an elimination game, with the winner having to beat North Carolina State twice to take the regional.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.