You’ve read them before. Mostly as a kid, but you’ve cleaned out your attic, found one or two, and read them. No? Maybe just me. If you never read them or had an outdoor childhood, the basic principle is you read a bunch of pages and then it directs you to choose how the story progresses. You read those pages, rinse, repeat, until something happens. And no matter what, something unexpected happens, so you go back until you get a better ending.
The NCAA Baseball Tournament has been one big “Choose Your Own Adventure”. Everyone got seeded in what was thought of in a very reasonable fashion, flashed ahead a few pages, and there is chaos everywhere. Florida, Florida Sate, Oregon State? Out. College of Charleston and Kennesaw State? Through. Even Maryland, a once and always forgotten baseball program went to South Carolina and took out a very solid, very storied baseball program in dramatic fashion. And this is where our story begins.
In Virginia’s own right, we had a tremendous opening round. The Hoos did everything right in our mind that (1) they needed to do and (2) they have done in previous CWS years leading up to Omaha. Pitching? Check. UVa starters went 3-0 with an 0.83 ERA, basically the 2 run homer versus Arkansas in the final game when the score was already 6-0. Hitting? Check. The Cavaliers did what we hoped they would have done all year. First, they took advantage of the small ball and 2nd outs to have big innings. Hoos scored 7 runs in the 6th against Bucknell to break that game open and 6 runs in the 3rd against Arkansas in the last game to lock down that win. Secondly, they got a lead early and relaxed on their pitching to cruise to a victory. Sure the first Arkansas game was 3-0, but Hoos got all those runs in the 1st and 3rd inning and let Kirby do what he has done all year. And if you watched that game, it was a total dominance as the Razorbacks only got 2 hits and 2 BB.
But as Virginia was preparing for another SEC opponent, the hottest team in the ACC at this moment decided to flip the script. It started with an improbable win against ODU to start the weekend, as they scored 3 runs in the 9th, the last 2 off of bases loaded walk after batters were hit by a pitch, and won 4-3. The Terps then went onto out-pitch a Top-10 ERA program in their own house 4-3, then used their bats to blow up the Gamecocks 10-1 to finish them off in the last game. An improbable winner, Maryland will be playing in their first ever Super Regional.
So what story line do you pick from here? Will it be the Maryland vs. Virginia starting pitching? Jake Stinnett and Mike Shawaryn will bill the first 2 on the bump and will oppose Kirby and Waddell/Lewicki, but who goes after them? If Virginia can knock one of them around like they started to do in the ACC Tourney (10 hits and 4 runs against Stinnett) they should have a good chance to at least win it in 3 games. Will the offensive team from the Charlottesville Regional show up in the Super Regional? Virginia has been the most effective getting people on base, playing small-ball, and taking advantage of opportunities. Statistically over the season, Maryland is not a great hitting team, but they have been doing just enough to pull off victories recently, including hitting over .300 against very good pitching.
But of course the biggest story is the fact that Maryland is on their way out of the ACC, and with this being the last team sport left this season, they will be heading to the B1? when they are finished in this tournament. How nice would it be if the Hoos were the ones to push them out and use that to vault back to Omaha? Very nice. But if we think it anything this season will fall prone to the well-established script, well, just make sure you have your finger on the last page.