The Virginia baseball team has been taking the field all season with the burden of expectations. And Brian O'Connor's Cavaliers certainly looked like one of the top teams in the country this past weekend in the NCAA's Charlottesville Regional.
"This team comes in and has just enormous expectations, and they managed it really well all year long," O'Connor said early Monday morning, shortly after the Cavaliers completed a 3-0 run through the regional with a 9-1 win against Arkansas. "And to be the regional champion here, and going to another super regional, I couldn't be more proud."
Next step for UVa -- the No. 3 national seed in this year's NCAA Tournament -- is a best-of-three super regional series at Davenport Field against Maryland. The schedule for the sold-out series will be announced at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
With Miami and North Carolina both going down on Monday, UVa and the Terrapins are the only ACC teams left in the NCAA field. This weekend's series will mark the first time two teams from the conference will go head-to-head in a super regional, and the winner will extend the ACC's streak of College World Series teams to nine straight years.
The series will mark Maryland's first ever super regional appearance, while the Cavaliers have now advanced to the NCAA's second weekend for the fifth time in six years. UVa made quick work of its opponents in the Charlottesville Regional, winning its three games by a combined margin of 22-3.
UVa's starters pitched 21.2 shutout innings before Brandon Waddell gave up a two-run homer in the seventh inning of Sunday's game against the Razorbacks. Senior Artie Lewicki threw seven shutout innings on Friday in a 10-1 win against Bucknell, then sophomore lefty Nathan Kirby earned regional Most Outstanding Player honors with eight innings of one-hit, shutout ball against Arkansas in a 3-0 win Saturday night.
"Looking a little bit deeper than the box scores and the stats, the rhythm that we pitched with this weekend was really, really good," said junior catcher Nate Irving. "All three guys -- Artie, Nathan, and Brandon -- were able to get into a really good rhythm, and they didn't really come out of it."
"I'm not going to say it surprised me," Waddell said after getting the win Sunday night. "We know what we're capable of, and we know what we can go out and do every week, week in and week out. And we have full faith and trust in everyone that goes out there."
"I wouldn't say it's competing, but you're trying to go out there and perform, kind of like they did," Waddell added. "You see the success they had, and you kind of want to keep that going for your team."
The Cavaliers also put up 29 hits over the course of the weekend. With questions about his team's offense dogging O'Connor for much of the season, he was asked after Sunday's game if he thought his players were simply guilty of waiting for the postseason.
"Maybe," he said with a smirk. "I could tell you in the back of my mind I've thought about that at times throughout the season, that you maybe get frustrated that we're not quite doing it at the clip that I would want. But maybe, I kept saying maybe it'll all come together at some point. Maybe they were waiting for this time."