OMAHA, Neb. -- “Good pitching will always beat good hitting.”
Ballplayers have heard that quote from their coaches since they first laced up spikes. The coaching cliché was put to the test when Florida and Virginia met with a spot to the CWS Finals on the line. The Gators and Cavaliers are old hands in Omaha and the only schools with four College World Series appearances since 2009.
Brandon Waddell toed the rubber for the Wahoos, and entering the game he was the second-best pitcher in the CWS, trailing only Vanderbilt’s Philip Pfeifer in the stats department. It was his 52nd career start, the most all-time in Virgina program history.Waddell entered the game with a 0.00 ERA, while giving up two hits with three walks and seven strikeouts during his seven innings pitched. Those numbers didn’t stand, but the lefty lasted five innings, giving up four runs to go along with three walks and three strikeouts. He then turned it over to Josh Sborz, who made his 57th career relief appearance. His four innings of work was the second-longest relief outing of his career.
But it was all part of the plan according the Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.
“The pitching plan that we had discussed over the last 24 hours fortunately worked,” he said. “We were going to try to get five or six out of Brandon Waddell and then turn it over to Josh Sborz. And both of those guys did a terrific job and just really excited that we have another opportunity to play and another opportunity to compete for a national championship.”
There is another quote about pitching beating hitting attributed to baseball philosopher and American hero Casey Stengel. He once said, along with several hundred other quotes worth putting on motivational posters, that “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa."
The vice-versa happened on Saturday night.
The Gators featured a lineup of hits worthy of being produced by Pharrell, but with better hats. Florida entered Game 12 of the CWS with a team batting average of .291, tops in the series. They scored 35 runs and racked up 41 hits during their stay in Omaha.
Florida slugger Peter Alonso hit a baseball 429 feet over the centerfield fence. It was the longest home run ball hit in the history of the CWS at TD Ameritrade Park. Alonzo etched his name in the CWS record book earlier in the week when one of his home runs traveled 421 feet. He became the first player since Arizona's Robert Refsnyder in 2012 with two dingers in Omaha.
Harrison Bader ensured the Gators would have their second multi-home run game of CWS and 14th of season when the leftfielder connected in the bottom of the fifth and sent one over the left-center field wall.
Bader was still wiping away the tears during the postgame news conference. He was pretty emotional as he smiled and sighed, “No crying in baseball.”
“I can't be more thankful for everyone just sticking with me, because there were some tough, tough things along the way,” he said. “So everyone just poured everything into my development as a player and as an individual. I am just am terribly grateful. “
The junior was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in third round and has likey played his last game for the Gators.
Florida’s flare for the long ball added some much needed offensive fireworks to the games at TD Ameritrade Park. The Gators six home runs were more than all the home runs combined in the previous two years.
Virginia wasn’t as dependent on the long ball as its SEC competition, but don’t think UVa avoided the homer. Matt Thaiss smacked a two-out home run in the top of the first as UVa scored first. But more importantly, the Wahoos scored last and the man who drove in the game-winning run was the guy who has delivered for Virginia all season -- Kenny Towns.
Towns came up with the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh and the senior hit a game-winning sacrifice fly, making him 7-for-8 with 17 RBI this year with the bases loaded. His three RBI gave him a team-best 66 for the season.
Towns coming through in the clutch was no surprise to O’Connor.
“He's gotten so many big hits for us.” the Virginia head coach 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… So certainly the three runs that he drove in tonight were crucial and everybody has a lot of confidence in him when he steps up.”
The former baseball lifer Stengel is also credited with saying three things can happen to your team during a baseball game -- the team can win, the team can lose or it can rain.
That is important information for O’Connor and his Wahoos because Virginia has never lost two consecutive CWS games in its 17 games in Omaha.
O’Connor also expects the team to stay loose during its rematch with Vanderbilt.
“We had a brief team meeting [Saturday] at noon that took about three minutes, and it was pretty clear the direction that we were going to go, “ he said. “And they came out and were having fun and competing for each other. I don't think there were any nerves at all in any of them. And that makes it a lot more enjoyable.”