OMAHA, Neb. -- The Comeback Cavaliers and their No. 1 contributor are at it again.
Virginia is heading to the College World Series for the second consecutive year following a 5-4 win against Florida on Saturday night. Senior third baseman Kenny Towns, Virginia’s “Mr. June,” came through with a go-ahead two-RBI double in the fifth inning, and after Florida tied the game back up in the sixth, he launched the ball deep enough to right field in the seventh to knock the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly.
On the eventual game-winning fly ball, Towns had come to the plate following an intentional walk of Matt Thaiss to load the bases with one out. Thaiss already had a home run and a single on the day and first base was open, so Towns was unfazed by the Gators’ strategy.
“When you think about it it's a smart play,” Towns said. “It's to set up the double play. And obviously Matt's been a very dangerous hitter and helps us out a lot. So I wouldn't take any offense to it or think anything of it. I was just happy to be able to get an opportunity to drive in another run.”
For Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, it wasn’t making a choice between the two hitters as much as trying to put themselves in the best position to get out of the inning by setting up the double play.
“Those two guys are swinging the bat good,” O’Sullivan said. “I think falling behind in the count, that's what hurt us. … You get a hitter's count, they tend to do damage, and that's what they did.”
This is nothing new for Virginia, or for Towns. The Hoos have scored the go-ahead runs in the sixth inning or later in all eight of their NCAA tournament wins this season, and five of the six were come-from-behind victories.
Towns has been doing this for a while. This season, he is an astounding 7-for-8 with 17 RBI with the bases loaded. He earned his “Mr. June” moniker around Charlottesville with several clutch hits as Virginia made its run last season, coming within one win of a national championship. In this year’s College World Series opener against Arkansas, Towns had a two-out RBI double in the eighth inning to give Virginia the lead for good.
“He's gotten so many big hits for us,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Kenny's played a lot of games in our uniform in four years. He's come through so many times, especially in this postseason.”
This 2015 team’s road to Omaha has bit bumpier than the 2014 version. Last year, Virginia was among the top teams in the country all season. This year, it started there, but struggled through the middle of the season and ended up as a No. 3 seed in the regionals.
Despite the ups and downs, the Hoos are back in the championship series, and Towns played a significant role in getting them there. A starter in all 64 games this season, he is hitting .296 with and leads the team in RBI with 66.
“There's a lot of guys you'd want up [in a big situation],” O’Connor said, “but certainly you know the pride that he has in this uniform, the pride that he has in this program, and he's going to go up there and get his money's worth and he's going to be prepared to give himself a chance to succeed.”
The way reliever Josh Sborz was dealing for the Cavaliers, Towns thought that his sac fly could be enough to make the difference. Sborz shut down a Florida offense that had little trouble scoring against most other pitchers it faced in Omaha, keeping the Gators scoreless on just three hits in four innings. That brought his total shutout innings against Florida in the CWS to six.
“You've just got to get that one-run lead however you can,” Towns said. “But just having a guy like that you feel confident just getting that one and taking the lead.”
Towns has the program record for NCAA tournament games (29), hits (33) and RBI (27) Virginia has shown an abundance of resiliency throughout its 2015 season and postseason, and experienced senior leaders like Towns have helped the Cavaliers keep their composure on such a big stage.
“Our expectations inside the locker room from year to year haven't changed,” Saturday starting pitcher Brandon Waddell said. “But I think especially once we got to Omaha and going through the postseason, having guys that have that experience, you can kind of help the younger guys especially with how young our team was this year.”
Thanks in large part to Kenny Towns, Virginia has at least another two games to play. The Finals begin on Monday at 8 p.m. ET against Vanderbilt, a familiar opponent. The calendar isn’t ready to flip, and there’s still time for more from Mr. June.