CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia will face a familiar foe with a berth in the College World Series on the line.
The Cavaliers (47-13) and Maryland (39-21) open the best-of-three super regional on Saturday.
This is familiar territory for Virginia, which is appearing in the super regionals for the fifth time in six years, and seeking its third CWS berth. The Cavaliers went to Omaha, Nebraska in 2009 and 2011 but have fallen short the last two seasons, losing in the regional in 2013 and the super regional last year when Mississippi State battered Cavaliers’ pitching and got help from seven errors in sweeping two games.
“There’s a great lesson in what Mississippi State did coming in here last year, that this time off the year …. it’s about getting hot,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “It’s about who’s hot.”
The Terrapins, making the first super regional appearance in program history, have been plenty hot. They have won 14 of 16 and earned their trip to Charlottesville by ending South Carolina’s 28-game home winning streak in the NCAA tournament with a pair of victories over the Gamecocks last weekend.
Maryland beat the Cavaliers 7-6 in the teams’ only meeting this season. It came in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, as the Terps hit four home runs, a feat that will be difficult to duplicate in spacious Davenport Field. Virginia is 32-3 at home and has allowed just 22 home runs all season.
Here are five things to watch for when Maryland plays Virginia:
DUELING ACES?: The Terps are expected to start ace Jake Stinnett (7-6) in the opener, and Virginia coach Brian O’Connor hasn’t yet named his starter. It’s likely to be the Cavaliers’ ace, sophomore left-hander Nathan Kirby (9-1), who pitched eight innings of one-hit ball against Arkansas last Saturday. Game two starters figure to be sophomore lefty Brandon Waddell (8-3) for the Cavaliers and freshman Mike Shawaryn (11-3) for Maryland. Shawaryn’s victory total leads the ACC and is a Terps’ single-season record.
POWER ALLEYS: Maryland hit only 19 home runs, but four came against Virginia at hitter-friendly NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the ACC tournament. Davenport Field is unlikely to yield that many long balls. It measures 332 feet down the lines, 370 in the power alleys and 404 to dead centerfield.
WINNING IS FUNDAMENTAL: Virginia’s staff earned run average (2.29) and fielding percentage (.982) both rank third nationally, while Maryland has a .975 fielding percentage, 23rd nationally, and a 3.36 team ERA. In a short series, mistakes are often magnified and the team that makes the fewest often wins.
NEXT LEVEL DISTRACTIONS: Virginia had three players drafted Thursday on the first day of the Major League Baseball draft — closer Nick Howard went 19th to Cincinnati, left fielder Derek Fisher went 37th to Houston and first baseman Mike Papi went 38th to Cleveland. The Terps’ Stinnett was taken 45th by the Chicago Cubs. Both teams could have more players drafted in rounds three through 10 on Friday, and how well they put aside their excitement and focus on the task at hand will be critical for both teams.
LAST HURRAH: This series will mark the end of Maryland’s long history in the ACC, and perhaps its long rivalry with the Cavaliers. The Terps are moving to the Big Ten next season.
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