OMAHA, Neb. -- The Virginia pitchers gathered for a meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday with uncertainty in the air. The night before, head coach Brian O’Connor had said that he didn’t know who would start Virginia’s College World Series Finals elimination game.
For freshman Adam Haseley, the everyday center fielder for the Cavaliers, the news given in the meeting was shocking. The ball was his.
“I didn’t think I was going to be on the mound, probably the whole College World Series,” Haseley said. “I definitely didn’t think I would be starting this morning.”
He did start, and he helped launch his squad to a 3-0 win against Vanderbilt to force a decisive Game 3 on Wednesday. Haseley pitched five-plus shutout innings with four hits before handing the ball off to historically dependable reliever Josh Sborz.O’Connor cited Haseley’s experience with USA Baseball before coming to Virginia and his competitive mindset as the reasoning behind picking him.
“I know this: He's got a lot of pride,” O’Connor said. “He's got a lot of pride in his teammates. This guy has been, in high school, he's been on the world stage … I knew he would go out there and throw strikes and give us a chance. I had no idea how deep he'd pitch. And I'm glad he gave us five strong innings.”
After the shock of O’Connor’s decision wore off, Haseley said it was nerves the rest of the day. They lasted through the first inning, but a second-inning pickoff and an inning-ending double play in the third helped settle him down.
If nerves were on the inside, his teammates couldn’t tell on the outside.
“He just came out really confident and excited to pitch for his team,” Sborz said. “It was pretty clear that he was relaxed. And just throughout the game he was extremely efficient ... and able to keep us in it.”
Haseley started all five of the Cavaliers’ previous CWS games at center and at the top of the lineup card. He had struggled from the plate, going 3-for-19 in Omaha heading into the night. So while he was in a new place, being on the mound, he wasn’t in a different environment. The crowd of 24,645 on the biggest stage in college baseball was nothing new.
“I do think playing some games before this in the field and being out there and having some playing time did help,” Haseley said. “You're already familiar of how the field kind of plays, how the game goes.”
He got his chance to shine on Tuesday night from the other side, and he answered the call in a way that few could have expected. Haseley had started four games in the regular season and appeared in 10, accumulating just 23.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He hadn’t pitched since he started an ACC tournament game against NC State on May 23.
In a rare sight in college baseball, he came off the mound after the first inning, put a helmet on and grabbed a bat. He is the second starting pitcher to also bat leadoff in College World Series history -- the only other was Clemson’s Bailey Hendley in 1958.
Haseley promptly started Virginia’s offensive day with a single.
“You have to separate it,” Haseley said of his multiple roles. “When you’re in the batter’s box you have a completely different mentality and when you’re on the mound you have a completely different mentality. Anything I can do to help this team.”
Vanderbilt struggled to string together hits all night, and that started with Haseley and his ability to quell a rally.
“We didn't know all that much about him,” Commodores first baseman Zander Wiel said. “But he did a good job locating. He used his fastball and his off-speed stuff to his advantage. And we got some runners on, but we were never able to get that big hit.”
Sborz came in to the game in the fifth inning and finished the job, just as he’s been doing since the College World Series started. Sborz went the final four innings giving up three hits and holding the shutout, earning his third win in Omaha this year, which ties a record for a single CWS. He has not allowed an earned run in 13 innings in Omaha and his overall streak goes back to May 15, at 27 innings.
The Virginia win sets up a Game 3 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. If things hold to form, it could be another Adam Haseley-esque performance that decides the national title.
“I'm also a big believer that to be in this position, to compete for a national championship you need guys to rise to the occasion that maybe hadn't yet or what people didn't expect,” O’Connor said. “I think if you go back and look at the history of this event, there's been players that have emerged and got big hits or pitched quality innings for their team. And tonight was certainly a case of that.”