OMAHA, Neb. -- Josh Sborz followed suit, and the Virginia Cavaliers are headed to the CWS Finals after sweeping through bracket play.
Sborz became the latest Virginia pitcher to keep an opponent at bay, allowing just one unearned run in five innings as the Cavaliers beat Mississippi 4-1 on Saturday to advance to the championship series, at 3-0 the only unbeaten team remaining in the College World Series.
Just like it has all season, pitching has been behind Virginia’s run to the finals. The Cavaliers have allowed just four runs -- two earned -- in three games, which is tied for the second fewest in the aluminum bat era. The staff ERA sits a 0.55 heading into Monday night’s Game 1 of the championship series.
Sborz started Friday night’s suspended game, pitching a perfect first inning on seven pitches before coming back out Saturday. He allowed an unearned run in the second when Mississippi executed a double steal, and left the bases loaded in the third.
“Josh Sborz was really outstanding, to start [Friday] night and throw one inning and come back [Saturday] and pitch in the clutch like he did -- it really speaks to who he is,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He showed what he’s capable of doing.”
Sborz improved to 6-4, getting all the support he would need from batterymate Robbie Coman, who singled home two runs in a three-run fourth inning.
“I took this like a reliever’s approach where you pitch a few pitches the first game and you’re going to go out the next day and throw some more,” Sborz said of starting Friday night and coming back Saturday. “I basically took it inning by inning and just throw as many pitches as I possibly could to save the bullpen.”
Sborz gave way to that lights-out pen, which included starter-turned-reliever Artie Lewicki, who pitched in his third consecutive CWS game. Lewicki allowed just one hit in three innings. It was the first hit he has allowed in seven innings at the CWS.
O’Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn made the decision to use Lewicki out of the pen to start the CWS, and circumstances have dictated he stay there.
“Artie Lewicki is a strike-thrower, all three games have been tight,” O’Connor said. “He’s got outstanding stuff. He’s just stepped up for his ballclub in an important role.
“He started every game in his career and he’s been unselfish and has done a heck of a job coming out of the pen and helping his team win.”
Lewicki has taken to his role and the preparation it takes to get ready.
“In the bullpen, it’s exhilarating,” Lewicki said. “As soon as the phone rings, you gotta get on it and get rolling. It takes a lot less to get hot but it’s definitely cool.”
Nick Howard came on to pitch the ninth inning and record his ACC single-season record 20th save.
Now Virginia is set up for the finals, with ace Nathan Kirby ready to go for Game 1.
“That was our plan,” O’Connor said. “There was absolutely no way, zero percent chance, that I was going to throw Kirby [on Saturday].
“We certainly had a tremendous amount of confidence in Josh. And we went with Josh [on Saturday] because we felt he was the best guy to give us a chance to win. So Josh was the right guy combined with Artie and Nick.”
And it has Virginia in the CWS Finals for the first time.