UVa Juniors Focused on NCAA Tournament


Mike Papi was a senior in high school the last time the Virginia baseball team advanced to the College World Series. Now Papi and his junior classmates are preparing for the third -- and potentially final -- shot at making their own run to Omaha.

"I haven't really thought about it, but it could possibly be the last time that we all play together," Papi said Tuesday morning before UVa practice. "So we're going to try to make the most of it."

UVa enters this weekend's Charlottesville Regional as the No. 3 national seed in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers open regional play against Bucknell at 2 p.m. Friday at Davenport Field.

UVa last reached the College World Series in 2011 -- the same year the Wahoos' recruiting class was ranked No. 8 in the country by Baseball America. Papi (Angels, 30th round) was drafted that year, but turned down the pros to play at UVa, as did Derek Fisher (Rangers, sixth round) and Brandon Downes (Red Sox, 43rd round).

The Cavaliers lost in the NCAA regional round when the players in that class were freshmen in 2012. Last June, they lost at home to Mississippi State in an NCAA super regional.

"I mean for me, I look at it like my first year here, we made it to a regional, and then the next year it was a super regional," Papi said. "So this year, if the trend continues, then it's Omaha. So we're extremely motivated to get to where we want to be."

"We're going to fight for every out we get," said junior catcher Nate Irving. "We're never going to give up or give in. We're going to battle all the way through. That's what our goal is. We're going to battle all the way through, until we get to where we want to be."

This year's major league draft is now less than two weeks away, with a pair of UVa juniors -- Fisher and Nick Howard -- talked about as potential first round picks. Baseball America also ranks both Papi and Downes among the top 200 prospects in this year's draft class.

But the Cavaliers say their focus is completely on the field.

"There's some guys on this team, that this could very well be the last time playing in navy and orange," Fisher pointed out.

"This is much bigger than the juniors," said Irving. "This is Artie Lewicki, Whit Mayberry, and Austin Young's last chance at a college baseball, College World Series. So it's much bigger than that."

The Cavaliers also say they don't feel any extra urgency entering this weekend's regional.

"We're just going to approach it like every other weekend," said Fisher. "It's a talented team that we've had all year, and it's a talented team that we've been on for three years in a row now."

"We have one goal. One goal in mind, And there's one way to do it, which is to take care of business every day that we get out here," said Irving. "We've got tunnel vision straight through everybody that comes in our way."


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