"I think our best chance was if the lightning had blown up the stadium," Anteaters coach Mike Gillespie said.
Indeed, the Cavaliers continued their postseason dominance with a 6-0 victory before a capacity crowd of 5,050.
"That was a really, really good team playing really well," Gillespie said. "It wasn't much of a contest."
None of the team's four NCAA tournament games – aggregate score, 35-3 -- have been, leaving Virginia one win shy of clinching this best-of-3 set and advancing to its second College World Series in three years.
The Cavaliers (53-9) again justified their No. 1 national seed, cruising on an afternoon when ace pitcher Danny Hultzen lacked the Ginsu-sharp control that's marked his college career. The No. 2 pick of the Major League draft, by the Seattle Mariners, Hultzen walked three, matching a season-high, and struck out a season-low three in 5.1 innings, his shortest outing in more than a year.
"Just one of those days, I guess," Hultzen said. "I just didn't have it."
"He showed what he was made of today," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said of Hultzen. "That's pretty special, to not have your best stuff and win in a Super Regional."
Ranked No. 4 nationally in fielding percentage, the Cavaliers aided Hultzen and reliever Cody Winiarski with flawless infield defense, including three double plays that Hultzen called "awesome" and "crucial."
The most important, and unconventional, was the first.
With Anteaters at second and third in the first inning, clean-up hitter Drew Hillman hit a slow roller along the third-base line that should have scored D.J. Crumlich. But Crumlich froze as Steven Proscia threw to first for the second out.
When UC Irvine's Sean Madigan strayed off second, first baseman Jared King threw to second baseman Keith Werman, prompting Crumlich to break for the plate. Werman's peg to catcher John Hicks was true, allowing Hultzen to escape a shaky first that included a hit batter and walk.
"I was the one who screwed that whole deal up," said Gillespie, who also coaches third base and may have been trying to cover for Crumlich's indecision.
Gillespie and O'Connor stuck with their starting pitchers after an 84-minute delay during the fourth inning, but O'Connor was, wisely, much quicker with the hook.
After Hillman's one-out single put runners on first and second with one down in the sixth, O'Connor summoned Winiarski. Two pitches later, Jordan Leyland grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, UC Irvine ace Matt Summers, drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Twins, remained on the mound even after ropes by Kenny Swab and David Coleman put two runners on. King followed with a towering home run to left on an inside-half change-up.
It was only the second home run against Summers this season and the second of King's Virginia career. The junior's first was a walk-off against Florida State in March.
"I think the (Florida State) one was sentimental, selfishly for me," King said. "This one, for our team, was obviously more important."
King's blast gave the Cavaliers a 5-0 lead, and with their pitching (national-best 2.27 team ERA), most thoughts turned to Sunday's Game 2.
King's home run, only the team's 23rd this season, reminds how many different ways the Cavaliers carve opponents and how deep their lineup is. Despite a robust .324 average, King hits eighth.
"That's why you call it a team," O'Connor said.
Even with a comfortable lead, Virginia never relaxed. Winiarski allowed only one hit in 3.2 innings, and in the ninth a charging Proscia bare-handed a Tommy Reyes bunt and threw to King for the second out.
"Our defense has really picked us up all year long," King said.
"I thought we played a very good, fundamental baseball game," O'Connor said. "That's sort of what we've been consumed with the last couple of weeks."
UC Irvine (42-17) managed just four hits and Sunday encounters unbeaten Tyler Wilson (8-0).
"We can't be scared of these guys," Crumlich said. "They're definitely beatable."
"They were," Gillespie said, "as advertised."