By Jeff White (

OMAHA, Neb. — The Virginia Cavaliers harbor no illusions. They know that, after dropping their opening game in the Men’s College World Series, they’re in an undesirable position.

“It’s tough,” junior right-fielder Casey Saucke said after UVA’s 3-2 loss to ACC foe North Carolina at Charles Schwab Field Omaha.

“You come here and you want to do a job and that’s, first of all, win the very first game,” Saucke said. “It’s tough to advance when you don’t win the first game, but we’re still in it and we’re gonna do everything that we can to win however many games it takes to move on to the next round and be in the national championship.”

In an elimination game Sunday, Virginia (46-16) will face another ACC team, Florida State (47-16), at 2 p.m. ET. Tennessee, the NCAA tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, rallied to stun FSU 12-11 in the second game Friday.

This will be the Cavaliers’ second clash with the Seminoles in about three weeks. In the ACC tournament, FSU defeated Virginia 12-7 in Charlotte, N.C.

The MCWS opener, played under sunny skies on a hot afternoon, was a back-and-forth affair Friday afternoon. The Wahoos led the Tar Heels 2-1 after six innings but gave up a run in the seventh and then lost in the ninth on Vance Honeycutt’s two-out RBI single.

“We’re disappointed,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said. “We’re frustrated because we just don’t believe that we played a very good baseball game today —not to take anything away from North Carolina. They pitched very, very well.”

So did the Cavaliers. Starter Evan Blanco worked 6.2 innings and allowed only two runs against a UNC team that came in averaging 8.7 per game.

“I’m just really, really proud of Evan,” O’Connor said. “You can see why we started him in the opener. He had a fantastic day and was ready to pitch and managed some situations and gave us an opportunity to win.”

Chase Hungate, who took over for Blanco in the seventh, gave up only two hits, but both came in the bottom of the ninth.

Pinch-hitter Jackson Van De Brake led off with a double inside the right-field line and then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. After Hungate retired Colby Wilkerson on a fly ball that catcher Jacob Ference snared in foul territory, Honeycutt did what he’s done so often for UNC (48-14) this season.

“I think everyone in the [home] dugout knew he was going to come through,” Carolina left-fielder Casey Cook said, “and that’s what happened.”

Evan Blanco

For the Hoos, the defeat was their first in this NCAA tournament, where they went 3-0 in their regional and 2-0 in their super regional, both of them at Disharoon Park. It was their third straight one-run loss in Omaha, where they fell 6-5 to Florida and 4-3 to TCU in last year’s MCWS.

“I spoke about it in the opening press conference [Thursday],” O’Connor said. “At this time of the year it’s the margins. Your margin for error is so small, and you’ve got to be on top of everything to win in Omaha.”

The Hoos, who are making their seventh appearance in the MCWS, stranded 10 runners Friday, three of them in the first inning, when UNC starter Jason DeCaro struck out slugger Harrison Didawick with the bases loaded.

Carolina head coach Scott Forbes said he thought “the story of the game was the strikeout against Didawick. I think if they score right there, have a big inning, it would be tough in this ballpark. But our pitching did the same thing they’ve been doing. They kept us in striking distance.”

Saucke said: “You don’t see us scoring only two runs in a game very often, so we’ve got to get the bats going. We’ve got to be able to support our pitchers a little bit. I think if we can do that on Sunday, then we’re going to be in a good spot.”

The Cavaliers finished with only five hits, matching their season low. Saucke, Ethan Anderson, Henry Ford, Henry Godbout and Eric Becker had one apiece. Anderson scored the Cavaliers’ first run on Ford’s third-inning single, and Godbout scored the second on Griff O’Ferrall’s sacrifice fly in the sixth. UNC left-hander Dalton Pence retired the Hoos in order in both the eighth and ninth innings.

“We were not opportunistic today,” O’Connor said. “We had a lot of opportunities with multiple runners in scoring position and just couldn’t get a big hit. A lot of them were fly balls that would have been fly balls on any day, other than a couple that Henry Ford hit. I thought he squared him up. I thought he drove the baseball and it just died and didn’t reward him.”

The wind was blowing in at Schwab Field, but the Hoos failed to alter their approach at the plate, O’Ferrall said. “If you hit the ball in the air, it was an out … We knew that after the first couple of innings and we kept hitting the ball in the air. Even if it was barreled it wasn’t going anywhere.”

Jacob Ference

O’Connor’s message to his team after its MCWS opener?

“Be better, period,” he said. “End of story. Unacceptable. That’s not Virginia baseball. Again, I’m not going to take anything away from North Carolina. They’ve got a great club and they got the big hits and they pitched really great, but what I’m talking about is the small details. Every coach sits up here and talks about it this time of the year. They did it and we didn’t … We have to be better, and if we’re better, then we’ll have an opportunity to win and potentially move forward. And I know what these kids are made of. They’ve bounced back all year long, and I know that they’ll be better on Sunday.”

O’Ferrall said the key is not “letting the moment get too big. Not looking at games ahead, I think that’s the biggest thing. The only thing we can control is winning the next game. So just taking it one at a time.

“Like Coach said, we need to do the small details that got us here in the first place. If we can control what we can control, take it one game at a time, then we’ll have a shot to get back into it.”

Honeycutt has hit 26 home runs this season, a UNC record, and is known for his late-game heroics. But with Cook, who was 3 for 4, due up next, O’Connor opted to have Hungate pitch to Honeycutt, who was 0 for 4.

“It was the right match-up,” O’Connor said. “I tell you, Cook, I think, is their best hitter in the lineup. So it wasn’t an option for us to walk Honeycutt. Honeycutt’s a great player. He has a lot of home runs. But I felt we had handled him really good all day. And the guy on deck had had a terrific day.”

Asked about O’Connor’s decision, Forbes said, “I would have done the same thing. Casey Cook’s got over 80 RBIs and … he’s got the biggest knack for driving in runs on our team.”

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