By Jeff White (

OMAHA, Neb. — Twice in this NCAA tournament, University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor has handed the baseball to Jay Woolfolk, and each time the junior right-hander has delivered for his team. The Wahoos hope to get another gem from Woolfolk on Sunday, when he’ll take the mound at 24,000-seat Charles Schwab Field Omaha.

In the first elimination game of this Men’s College World Series, UVA (46-16) faces ACC rival Florida State (47-16) at 2 p.m. ET. Junior left-hander Carson Dorsey (7-4, 4.67 ERA) will start for the Seminoles, with Woolfolk (4-1, 5.95) getting the ball first for the Cavaliers.

“I won’t say much to him,” O’Connor said Saturday after Virginia’s practice at Creighton University. “It’ll be a simple message: Go out and do what you do.

“I think the mistake people make here when they get to the College World Series is they try to do too much, or they try to coach differently or change things. You got here for a reason, and you stick with what got you here and then you just believe that that’s going to be enough.”

Like Dorsey, Woolfolk spent much of the regular season coming out of the bullpen. He was dropped from Virginia’s weekend rotation after a March 17 start against Wake Forest. Woolfolk made 16 relief appearances after that game, including one against Florida State in the NCAA tournament, but he didn’t start again until June 2.

That was in the final game of the NCAA regional at Disharoon Park, and Woolfolk pitched eight innings and struck out seven that night, both career highs, to help UVA defeat Mississippi State 9-2.

Six days later, he struck out seven in 6.1 innings to earn the victory in a 10-4 win over Kansas State that clinched a seventh trip to Omaha for the Hoos.

“He has handled the moment, the last two starts,” O’Connor said Saturday, “and I really believe Jay Woolfolk will handle tomorrow afternoon and the opportunity that he has in front of him.”

Woolfolk said: “The guys depend on me, and I trust them behind me. The coaches trust me to go out there and compete and give everything that I got.”

This won’t be Woolfolk’s first appearance in Omaha. A year ago, he pitched in both of the Cavaliers’ games at the MCWS. In the first, he entered with one out in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied and the bases loaded. The only batter Woolfolk faced hit a sacrifice fly to lift Florida to a 6-5 victory in front of an overflow crowd of 24,801.

“Pitching [here] was a little nerve-wracking,” Woolfolk said. He learned, though, that the key is blocking out the atmosphere and “just going out there and competing.”

No. 4 didn’t falter the next day. Woolfolk retired both batters he faced as Virginia, trailing 4-3, held TCU scoreless in the top of the ninth. But the Cavaliers couldn’t push a run across when they came up to bat and were eliminated.

Woolfolk is determined to do everything he can Sunday to help UVA avoid another early exit. “This is not gonna be our last game,” Woolfolk said. “That’s the mindset.”

Two games were played at Schwab Field on opening day of the MCWS, and each produced a walk-off loss for an ACC team. On Friday afternoon, North Carolina scored one run in the bottom of the ninth to edge Virginia 3-2. That night, Tennessee rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth to stun FSU 12-11.

The Hoos didn’t play the Noles during the regular season, but the teams met May 24 in an ACC tournament game at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C. FSU erased an early deficit and won 12-7 to oust UVA from the tournament.

Woolfolk came out of the bullpen that day. He pitched the final two innings and allowed three hits and one run, striking out three batters and walking one.

Woolfolk would have started Virginia’s third game in Charlotte, but once the Noles took a sizable lead, O’Connor said, “I just felt it was important to get him out there and get him working, get him ready for the regional. And so certainly he had a chance to face them for a couple innings. They took some good swings against him, but he’s got a little bit of experience against them. We all do. They’ve got a really, really good ball club and we’re going to have to do what we do and be at our best.”

Jay Woolfolk (left) and Jacob Ference

Dorsey also pitched in relief in that game, and he had an outing to forget. He gave up four runs and didn’t record an out before FSU’s coaches replaced him. Even so, O’Connor said, he’s sure “Dorsey learned something from facing us and will make some adjustments. So it’s a matter of us having the right approach against him. He’s a good, talented pitcher.”

Sophomore left-hander Evan Blanco started for UVA against UNC on Friday and pitched well. He’s not available Sunday, O’Connor said, but another starter, Joe Savino, would be an option out of the bullpen.

“All hands on deck,” O’Connor said. “You’ve got to try to get to the next game, so you have everybody available except Blanco and you just do what you have to do to win the game and then move on to Tuesday.”

Woolfolk struggled with his control during the regular season, but in the NCAA tournament he’s struck out 14 and walked only three.

“His overall command of his fastball and slider have been better,” O’Connor said. “When he got himself into trouble in the middle part of the season, there were four-pitch walks, there was an inning that he just couldn’t get under control. And so his command at the bottom of the zone and throwing more strikes the last two weeks have been the key to his success and will be the key [Sunday] as well.”

FSU entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 8 overall seed, and UVA was No. 12. The Seminoles’ standouts include Cam Smith and James Tibbs III, who are hitting .401 and .369, respectively. Tibbs leads Florida State with 28 home runs, and Smith has a team-high 21 doubles.

As Woolfolk spoke with reporters Saturday at Creighton, O’Connor’s alma mater, the Noles were warming up to practice next on the turf field at Kitty Gaughan Pavilion.

“They’re just a really tough hitting team,” Woolfolk said. “They don’t strike out a lot. They put the ball in play, they make your defense work and obviously they have players on that team like Tibbs and Smith, really, really good talented players, one to nine.”

His team is facing elimination, but O’Connor said he won’t change the approach that’s worked so well for the Cavaliers this season.

“I think this time of the year, you can try to overcoach it and do too much,” he said. “I know the pride and the poise and the character of our guys because they’ve shown it all year. And they just need to regroup, which they will, and go out and play a great baseball game. And if they do, we’ll have an opportunity to win the ball game.”

Virginia’s veterans include juniors Woolfolk, Griff O’Ferrall, Ethan Anderson and Casey Saucke, and O’Connor is confident they’ll have the team ready to play Sunday. “And then if you win, you win,” O’Connor said. “If you don’t, you don’t. But I have zero concern about them and their ability to put their teammates in the best position to win.”

Only once this season has UVA dropped back-to-back games. That was on March 8 and 9, in the first two games of Virginia’s series with ACC rival Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.

“That shows the resilience of our team, their ability to bounce back,” O’Connor said. “So that’s what gives me confidence. I didn’t know that stat, but I’ve always felt that … because of the leadership in the player group, that they have been resilient and bounced back all year long. So I believe 100 percent with every fiber of my body that they will do that [against FSU].”

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