OMAHA, Neb. -- Friday afternoon’s 10-5 win for Florida against Virginia looked familiar for the Gators, as it was their third 10-plus run performance of the College World Series. Virginia, on the other hand, is now faced with a feeling it has yet to experience in the NCAA tournament.
Up until this point, the Cavaliers had won every game in NCAA play. They went 3-0 in the Lake Elsinore Regional, swept both games against Maryland in the Super Regional they hosted, and topped Arkansas and Florida in their first two Omaha matchups.Now, they will come into Saturday’s rematch off a loss. While it’s a first for the tournament, Virginia has been no stranger to adversity in 2015. To say the season was a roller coaster would be a bit of an understatement. They don’t seem fazed by the loss.
“I think we went out there and swung the bats pretty well today,” third baseman Kenny Towns said. “I think everyone is swinging the bats with confidence, so I think everyone will feel good going into tomorrow.”
The Hoos squeaked into the tournament as a No. 3 regional seed, partly thanks to a strong finish to the regular season with a three-game sweep at North Carolina. Despite a 12-1 start to the year, they then struggled throughout much of March and April. They went through five losing streaks of at least three games.
Injuries did deplete the roster throughout the season. Right fielder Joe McCarthy, who was second on the team in 2014 in hits, was sidelined by back surgery for the first two months of the season. Nathan Kirby, the No. 1 starter for the Virginia from the beginning of year, strained his left latissimus dorsi muscle on April 17. He finally made his return on Friday afternoon.
Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor ended the anticipation of Kirby’s return by announcing on Thursday that he would start on Friday. O’Connor said that Kirby would be available at the start of the CWS, but didn’t use him in the first two games. For Kirby, his return to the mound was less than ideal: He gave up four runs (three earned, all in the third inning) on four hits in 2.2 innings.
O’Connor, who didn’t see Kirby going beyond 45-60 pitches, was still encouraged by what he saw.
“It was great to see him out there,” O’Connor said. “We were obviously hopeful that he could maybe give us three clean innings and I thought he looked really good in the first couple, and he was fine in the third. Just Florida is going to -- they're talented and they're going to make you pay. … He's certainly healthy and certainly he can build off that, that's for sure.”
Now, the pitching staff is set again. Connor Jones is on six days rest and Brandon Waddell, who shut down Florida in the first game between the teams, is an option as well. Josh Sborz, who shut the door in both wins, will be fresh out of the bullpen too.
“I feel good about tomorrow,” O’Connor said. “I haven't decided who will start. But we certainly have a couple of different options. And I feel good about it.”