June 11, 2010

By Shane Mettlen
Special to NCAA.com

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The Virginia Cavaliers don't deny they have faced more pressure and higher expectations this season as they continue their quest for a return trip to the College World Series. Instead they embrace it.

A year ago the Cavs made a surprising run to Omaha via the Irvine, Calif., Regional - where they beat San Diego State and pitching phenomenon Stephen Strasburg - and the Oxford, Miss., Super Regional. This time around Virginia will play host in the Super Regional for the first time, hosting Oklahoma in the first game of a best-of-three series Saturday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

But the Virginia players, who spent most of the regular season ranked No. 1, say there is a good reason why the pressure isn't getting to them.

"I really think we're better than last year," outfielder Jarrett Parker said. "We've got a lot more experience and most of our guys have been through it last year. We know what it takes to get to the College World Series and we know what it takes to win the College World Series. I think we're ready for the next challenge."

The next challenge for the Cavaliers (50-12) is the Sooners (47-15), who swept through the Norman Regional, twice beating a North Carolina team that was fighting for a fifth-straight trip to Omaha. Oklahoma brings power to Virginia; the Sooners rank No. 12 in the country with 93 home runs and are hitting .314 as a team.

"The University of Oklahoma has a very good baseball program," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "It's rich in tradition. They've been to Omaha and had success in Omaha. They've got a great ball club this year and they are very balanced. We are definitely going to have to play our best baseball to win this weekend."

Oklahoma coach Sunny Galloway told media in Norman this week that he's been impressed with the Cavaliers since they made their improbable 2009 run through the ACC Tournament and then into the College World Series.

"I watched their guys in the UC-Irvine Regional last year at this time," Galloway said. "They won that regional, which was really tough at the time and then they went in and lost Game 1 of the Ole Miss Super Regional, but Virginia won Games 2 and 3 in Oxford. I know this, they earned it the tough way to get to Omaha and now they get to stay at home. It's going to be a new challenge for them because there are pressures involved sometimes when you got to stay at home."

Of course Virginia, which wasn't too happy about having to travel to the West Coast last year, wouldn't have it any other way. Charlottesville has gone crazy for the Virginia program, which was on the verge of extinction before O'Connor arrived in 2003.

Seats were added down the first base line and in right field during the season to bring the capacity at Davenport Field to nearly 5,000. Despite the stadium additions the Super Regional sold out in a hurry and tickets have gone for as much as $400 on eBay.

"Our atmosphere all year long have been amazing," O'Connor said. "But really, in the NCAA Tournament it went to a new level. The fact that this place is sold out is really remarkable and the fans get into every pitch and understand the game. Hopefully that's an advantage for us this weekend."

Virginia enters the best-of-three series having not lost back-to-back games all season and the Cavaliers haven't lost a series since dropping two games to North Carolina State the first week of April.

"I think that's just the character of this team," Virginia outfielder Phil Gosselin said. "We got a bunch of very resilient guys that let it roll off their backs if they have a little bit of failure. That's the way it is in baseball, you are going to lose games, but you have to be able to put that behind you. Hopefully this weekend we'll keep that up."