Tyler Beede is a two-time, first-round draft choice. Walker Buehler has won 12 games this season, one shy of the national lead. But for all of the pitching at Vanderbilt's disposal Monday, Virginia is positioned even better entering the College World Series' championship duel.
Cavaliers ace Nathan Kirby will start Game 1 of the best-of-three series on full rest. Brandon Waddell, no slouch he, will be similarly rested for Tuesday's scheduled Game 2 in Omaha, Neb.
Coach Brian O'Connor could not have scripted Virginia's third CWS appearance any better. The Cavaliers are the event's lone unbeaten team, and their pitching has been historically suffocating.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Virginia makes College World Series finals vs. Vanderbilt with 4-1 win against Mississippi
- Teel Time: Virginia, Vanderbilt on collision course at College World Series
- U.Va. defeats TCU 3-2 in bottom of 15th in College World Series
- Major League Baseball
- Virginia Cavaliers
See more topics »
In concert with the dominant bullpen duo of Artie Lewicki and Nick Howard, starters Kirby, Waddell and Josh Sborz have allowed two earned runs in three Series victories, an ERA of 0.55. The CWS record for team ERA, with a minimum of four games, is 0.60 by Cal-Berkeley in 1957.
Anyone astonished by such stinginess just boarded the bandwagon. Virginia (52-14) has pitched exceptionally throughout the season, and its ERA for nine tournament games is 1.34.
Choreographing it all are O'Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn, and their instincts of late have been sterling.
They brought Lewicki, a starter during the ACC tournament and NCAA regional, out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the super regional against Maryland, leaving Sborz to start the decisive Game 3. Understandably emboldened after those victories, they have used Lewicki in relief for each of the Cavaliers' games in Omaha.
Fully recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery, all Lewicki has done is pitch seven scoreless innings, allowing one meager hit and walk. He's won two games, and his three innings Saturday against Ole Miss preserved Sborz's victory and set up Howard for his ACC-record 20th save.
"I think the only difference (between the roles) would be the preparation before the game as a starter," Lewicki told on-site media Saturday. "You have a little bit more time. You get probably about an hour. Go through your routine and just do what you need to do to get ready and pace yourself, kind of what you have to do in the game.
"But in the bullpen, it's exhilarating. You go out there, do some stuff to get ready. As soon as the phone rings, you gotta get on it and get rolling, and it takes a lot less to get hot, but it's definitely cool."
While Lewicki has embraced his new role, Sborz has flourished as well, yielding one run, unearned at that, in his last 12 innings, seven versus Maryland and five against Ole Miss.
Entrenched at the top of Virginia's rotation, sophomore left-handers Kirby (9-2, 1.70 ERA) and Waddell (9-3, 2.57) both worked seven innings in their CWS outings, each allowing an earned run, Kirby a week ago Sunday to Ole Miss, Waddell on Tuesday to Texas Christian.
Considering Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin's options, the Cavaliers figure to need a quality Kirby performance Monday. Corbin plans to start either Beede (8-7, 3.80 ERA ) or Buehler (12-2, 2.27), a duo he used together in a 6-4 CWS conquest of Cal-Irvine on June 16.
Beede walked three, plunked three and yielded four runs in 3.2 innings, his second consecutive poor outing. But Buehler pitched 5.1 innings of hitless relief.
Both are right-handed, average more than a strikeout per inning and were drafted out of high school, Buehler in 2012's 14th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Beede in 2011's first round, 21st overall, by the Toronto Blue Jays. Beede enrolled at Vanderbilt rather than cash in, and this month the San Francisco Giants selected him with the draft's No. 14 pick.
Neither Virginia nor Vanderbilt (49-20) has won a CWS, assuring college baseball a first-time national champion for the second consecutive season — UCLA claimed its initial title last year. The programs have not met since the 2004 NCAA tournament, when the Commodores eliminated the homestanding Cavaliers from a regional, and facing a Southeastern Conference opponent is fitting for O'Connor's bunch.
First, the SEC has been the sport's dominant league of late, producing nine national champions since 1990 and a record 10 tournament teams this season. Moreover, the SEC's LSU and Arkansas defeated Virginia in the 2009 College World Series, with the conference's South Carolina nudging U.Va. twice in the 2011 CWS.
But the Cavaliers are 4-0 against the SEC in this tournament, besting Arkansas and Ole Miss twice apiece. They have confidence. They have superb, well-rested pitchers in top form and are riding a five-game winning streak.
Do not bet against them.