June 1, 2015
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LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — In Virginia, it was 4:18 a.m. when the NCAA baseball tournament’s Lake Elsinore regional ended Monday.
In California, where the University of Virginia was playing, it was three hours earlier, and sunrise was not yet approaching. Still, the final out — a line drive to senior Thomas Woodruff in left field — capped a long, grueling and unforgettable day for UVa, whose game with Southern California started in May and ended in June.
The third-seeded Cavaliers, winning their third game in three days, rallied to defeat second-seeded USC 14-10 in 11 innings at Lake Elsinore Stadium, a victory that sends them to an NCAA super regional for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“Sorry to keep everybody up,” UVa head coach Brian O’Connor said, smiling, to open his postgame press conference, “but we’re obviously very, very excited that we found a way to win this regional.”
For the Trojans (39-21), who led 5-4 after the first inning and 9-5 after the fifth, the game was their second of the day. The first was an elimination game in which USC rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to win 12-11 and knock fourth-seeded San Diego State out of the four-team regional.
That game lasted about four hours and 20 minutes. The Virginia-USC game lasted 4:48, at the end of which only a few hundred fans remained in the stands on what had become a chilly night.
“I tell you what, they never stopped fighting,” UVa catcher Matt Thaiss said of the Trojans, whose band played throughout both games, adding another surreal element to the marathon affair.
“They probably played 10 hours of baseball today, and they didn’t give up once. Hats off to them.”
What comes next for the Wahoos (37-22) is, for now, uncertain. In the super-regional round, Virginia will play UCLA or Maryland. The Bruins host the Terrapins at 11 p.m. Eastern on Monday, with the winner advancing to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
If UCLA wins, UVa will remain in California this week for a best-of-three series that would start Friday or Saturday in Los Angeles.
If Maryland wins, the Cavaliers will fly home Tuesday. The NCAA hasn’t announced where that super regional would be played — Davenport Field is a possibility — when it would start.
The `Hoos, last year’s NCAA runners-up, plan to spend part of Monday at the beach and then attend a Major League Baseball game that night in San Diego or Anaheim.
“We’ve never been in this scenario, not knowing what the next step is,” said O’Connor, who’s guided Virginia to the NCAA tournament in each of his 12 seasons as head coach.
“It’s kind of odd but exciting, maybe, that we get an extra day’s rest [more] than our opponent.”
Virginia’s second win over USC in the double-elimination regional bore little resemblance to the first. On Friday night, sophomore right-hander Connor Jones worked 7.2 innings and all but shut down the Trojans’ high-powered offense in a 6-1 victory.
On Sunday, sophomore right-hander Alec Bettinger, in his first start since March 24, didn’t record an out before being replaced by sophomore left-hander Kevin Doherty in the first inning. Freshman right-hander Tommy Doyle and junior left-hander David Rosenberger, neither of whom pitched Friday or Saturday, followed Doherty out of the bullpen before O’Connor turned to junior right-hander Josh Sborz, one of the nation’s premier closers, in the 11th.
“This particular game, certainly it’s not how you would draw it up,” O’Connor said, “but maybe that makes it all that more special, because of how we won it.”
Had the `Hoos lost, the teams would have met again Monday night for the regional title. And so O’Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn managed the staff carefully, saving freshman left-hander Adam Haseley and keeping Sborz in the bullpen until UVa regained the lead by scoring five runs in the top of the 11th.
Rosenberger, coming off a shaky performance against NC State in the ACC tournament, dominated against USC. He pitched four perfect innings, retiring all 12 batters he faced, to keep the Trojans from blowing the game open.
“I just had the mindset of, `I just don’t want to do too much,’ ” Rosenberger said, “and I wanted to be aggressive with my pitches and put the pressure on [USC], as opposed to the other way around. I knew I was in a big spot, and I was just trying to keep my team in the game.”
O’Connor said: “We were limited with what our options were, and David just continued to give us a chance to [battle back], and that had a lot to do with us winning that ball game.”
Rosenberger took over from Doyle, who pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, after the sixth. The coaching staff planned to limit Rosenberger’s work so he’d be an option for a Monday game against USC, O’Connor said, but “wouldn’t you know it, all of the sudden in the top of the eighth is when we scored three runs.”
That made it 9-9, and “so then it was easier to make the decision to send [Rosenberger] back out there,” O’Connor said.
Fatigue, not surprisingly, appeared to exact a toll on the Trojans as their fourth game in this regional wore on. USC made four errors, and its pitchers issued 14 walks and hit three batters.
One of those errors, by left-fielder Bobby Stahel, helped UVa pull even in the eighth, an inning whose highlights included a two-RBI single by freshman Pavin Smith.
In the 11th, after Doherty’s double scored junior Joe McCarthy to make it 10-9, a two-base error by right-fielder A.J. Ramirez on Thaiss’ RBI single pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 13-9.
“I think fatigue had something do with some of the mistakes,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said.
Little has come easily for the Cavaliers in a season in which numerous players, including All-ACC pitcher Nathan Kirby, have been sidelined for long stretches by injuries. Coming out of April, in fact, UVa was in danger of not qualifying for the ACC tournament.
This team, O’Connor said, has “endured more than any ball club than I’ve coached in our 12 years here at Virginia.”
And so it was only fitting, perhaps, that the `Hoos had to scrap for their latest regional title, a championship made possible by the contributions of such improbable heroes as Doyle, Rosenberger and Doherty, guys “that hung in there and continued to battle,” O’Connor said.
“I’m as proud of a ball club as I’ve ever been, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to continue playing next weekend.”