U.Va. plays like champion in reaching third College World Series in six years

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Brian O'Connor comapres this College World Series team to his 2011 CWS club.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Monday marked the 153rd and final baseball game pitting Virginia and Maryland as ACC rivals. Indeed, it was the last athletic contest of any kind between the schools as league foes.

And no anticlimax here. Rather, winner-to-Omaha.

Yes, for the first time ACC teams clashed in a NCAA tournament super regional, and this Virginia-Maryland series — the teams first met on the diamond in 1899, long before the ACC's 1953 founding — extended to the full three games.

Nine innings for a trip to the College World Series.

The game lasted three-plus hours, but it was over after an inning. Virginia, the highest seed remaining in the tournament, ambushed Maryland early and cruised to an 11-2 rout and its third CWS appearance in six years.

"I think this is a team that's built to win in Omaha," Cavaliers coach Brian O'Connor said. "I think in all phases of the game this team's pretty special."

Virginia scored three first-inning runs, two on third baseman Kenny Towns' first triple this season, and with U.Va. pitcher Josh Sborz at his high-velocity best, that was more than enough cushion.

Towns went 0-for-4 in Game 1 of the series, a 5-4 Maryland victory, leaving six runners on base. He rebounded with three hits and a RBI in the Cavaliers' Game 2 conquest and then struck the decisive blows Monday — he added a two-run single in the third.

How daunting was the Terps' early deficit? Well, prior to Monday, Virginia was 14-0 when leading after the first inning, testament to its superb pitching staff.

Sborz made sure it became 15-0.

Control has been his nemesis throughout the season, and he walked two of Maryland's first three hitters before inducing a first-pitch, inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play from clean-up man Jose Cuas. More relaxed thereafter with a considerable lead, Sborz seized command, striking out nine and yielding just four hits in seven shutout innings.

Starting for the first time in a month, he showed no signs of fatigue on a sticky night at sold-out Davenport Field. His 98th pitch was a wicked backdoor slider that froze Tim Lewis for the first out of the seventh inning.

For any pitcher, let alone one who had allowed eight earned runs in his last 12.2 innings, it was a clutch performance.

"He had pretty electric stuff the whole time he was out there," Maryland center fielder Charlie White said.

"Unbelievable," was Terps coach John Szefc's word choice.

When Austin Young relieved Sborz to start the eighth, the crowd stood and demanded that Sborz step out of the dugout to soak in the applause. He reluctantly obliged and later called it the experience of his young life.

Suffice to say, it's been a peculiar NCAA tournament. Only three of the eight national seeds — No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 7 Texas Christian — survived the regionals, matching the low of the 64-team bracket era (since 1999).

Each of those three faced elimination Monday, and only Virginia and TCU survived as Lafayette fell to Ole Miss. The Cavaliers and Rebels clash Sunday in Omaha.

Of the eight College World Series qualifiers, only Texas is a former national champion. Louisville is the lone Series returnee from last season, yet another example of how well the Cardinals' overall sports programs will fit when they join the baseball-rich ACC next month, replacing Big Ten-bound Maryland.

Speaking of the Terps, how twisted would it have been if their final team standing, in their final ACC year, denied a conference rival a College World Series trip? More mind-bending still, what if Maryland, playing its first NCAA tournament since 1971, were to have been the team that ended the ACC's baffling national baseball championship drought?

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