Add an unfathomable, in-front-of-the-home-folks, we're-heading-to-Omaha celebration to the litany of Virginia baseball firsts under coach Brian O'Connor.
In walk-off style. With two outs. With a remarkable season one strike from a demoralizing end.
"Absolutely the most thrilling, greatest win in Virginia baseball history," O'Connor said Monday night after a ninth-inning resurrection lifted the Cavaliers over UC Irvine 3-2 in the decisive Game 3 of their NCAA Super Regional and into the College World Series.
"One strike away from the dream," said Irvine pitcher Jimmy Litchfield, his eyes moist and red.
This was postseason baseball at its finest, two hours and 57 minutes of excruciating entertainment. And no, that's not an oxymoron.
Pitching that ranged from clever to overpowering to heroic. Clutch hitting. Sublime defense. All this is an elimination game.
Mind you, these are college students, not the Yanks and Giants.
"That was a great game," said Mike Gillespie, Irvine's gracious, Hall of Fame coach. "Everybody sold out."
None more than Matt Summers. The Anteaters ace threw 93 pitches in Saturday's Game 1, but when Gillespie summoned him with one out in the eighth Monday, he recorded four effortless outs.
Irvine led 2-1. Virginia, the tournament's top seed, was on the brink of losing Game 3 of a Super Regional at home for the second consecutive year.
"That guy was blowing us away in the ninth inning," O'Connor said of Summers.
Until David Coleman, Virginia's leading hitter, rapped a two-out single to center on a 1-2 pitch.
Until Jared King, who hit a 3-run homer off Summers on Saturday, laced a ball up the middle that careened off Summers' ankle for an infield hit.
Until Summers walked pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani on four pitches to load the bases for sophomore shortstop Chris Taylor of Virginia Beach's Cox High.
"A lot of times in a big situation you try to muscle up or something," Taylor said. "I just tried to stay relaxed."
Taylor drove an 0-1 fastball from Summers past diving shortstop D.J. Crumlich into center field, scoring pinch-runners Mitchell Shifflett and Corey Hunt and sending a sellout crowd of 5,050 into delirium.
"A player can only dream of moments like this," Taylor said.
Postseason's stakes reveal volumes, and the Cavaliers and Anteaters distinguished themselves for three days.
For Virginia (54-10): Taylor went 6-for-12 with two hits in every game; closer Branden Kline, 0-2 in previous Super Regionals, earned Monday's win; center fielder Kenny Swab hit his first home run of the season to knot the score at 1 in the sixth.
For Irvine (43-18): Litchfield, a freshman left-hander, baffled the Cavaliers with breaking stuff for 4.1 innings; middle infielders Crumlich and Tommy Reyes went a combined 5-for-7.
"I love their style of offense," O'Connor said. "They peck your eyes out."
Before O'Connor's arrival eight seasons ago, the Cavaliers had never earned consecutive NCAA tournament bids, been ranked No. 1 or reached the College World Series. They've done all that, and much more, since.
But Virginia's sole CWS appearance, in 2009, came courtesy of a Super Regional victory at Ol' Miss. Never had the Cavs enjoyed such a moment at Davenport Field, where postseason capacity crowds have become routine.
"For us to win, in that fashion, in front of our great fans, it's just awesome," said starting pitcher Will Roberts, who yielded one run in 7.1 innings.
The Cavaliers saluted those fans by racing to the right-field wall to greet the bleacher bums.
"This Super Regional championship is as much for them as it is for anybody," O'Connor said.
And those who witnessed it will long remember. Not only the drama, but the quality of play.
"There is a lot of pressure, no question," O'Connor said. "You can't hide from it. You have to embrace it. You have to attack it."
The Cavaliers did even more. They conquered it.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times