The last five ACC baseball tournament champions have reached the College World Series. Virginia is poised to make it six.
Less than 24 hours after defeating Florida State for the conference title, the Cavaliers on Monday were rewarded with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
The top seed is "just another thing that our program has accomplished," U.Va. coach Brian O'Connor said in quotes posted on Virginiasports.com. "For the first time ever we are the No. 1 overall seed going into the NCAA tournament. I think that speaks to the level of play, of consistent baseball our team has brought to the field every day this entire season.
"The (NCAA selection) committee recognizes that and it's a tremendous accomplishment. That being said, it doesn't spot us any runs Friday against Navy. It doesn't do us anything other than tell people that in the NCAA's eyes we are the top team in college baseball."
The Cavaliers (49-9) open their bid for a second CWS appearance in three seasons Friday at 1 p.m., when they host Patriot League tournament champion Navy (33-23-1). The other teams in the Charlottesville Regional are Big East regular-season runner-up St. John’s (35-20) and East Carolina (39-19), which finished third in Conference USA.
Navy last made the NCAAs in 2002. ECU is in the field for the 11th time in 13 years, while St. John’s is making its 33rd tournament appearance, eighth all-time.
"The reaction in the locker room was one of excitement," O'Connor said of Monday's field unveiling. "There was a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on. It's something that you're proud of. They need to be proud of that today and then move on and concentrate on what we need to do to have success throughout the weekend. I think it really says something about the University of Virginia and our baseball program."
Virginia did not play either Navy or St. John’s this season. The Cavaliers won two-of-three against visiting ECU in late February -- freshman pitcher Austin Chrismon of Menchville High is 1-0 with a 2.04 ERA in nine apparances for the Pirates.
Virginia and St. John's spilt two games in last season's NCAA tournament in Charlottesville.
This marks Virginia’s eighth NCAA tournament in as many seasons under O’Connor and the fifth year the Cavaliers have hosted a regional. They reached the CWS in 2009 and fell one victory shy last season, losing a decisive Super Regional Game 3 to Oklahoma.
"A year ago, that image of the Oklahoma dogpile on our field, of not making it (to Omaha), that still resonates in everybody's head," Virginia senior pitcher Tyler Wilson said. "Everybody here is hungry -- freshmen that haven't experienced it, sophomores that are stepping up into bigger roles this year. Everybody is really excited about the situation we're in. This is what you live for as a college baseball player, and this postseason is going to be just as fun as the three previous ones."
Here is Virginia's complete NCAA tournament history.
Virginia’s No. 1 overall seeding is reflected in the national statistics. The Cavaliers lead Division I in winning percentage and rank second in ERA, third in fielding percentage and 17th in scoring.
Pitching has been paramount, especially in a season defined by retooled aluminum bats and a marked decline in offense. Virginia has hit only 20 home runs, 41 fewer than last year, but its top three starting pitchers boast ERAs of less than 2.50.
Junior left-hander Danny Hultzen (10-3, 1.69 ERA), a first-team Academic All-American, is projected by many to go No. 1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Major League Draft on June 6. Closer Brandon Kline (17 saves, 1.65 ERA) has yielded only five extra-base hits, all doubles, in 34 innings.
Competing in the game’s top conference – seven ACC teams made the NCAA field, and North Carolina is seeded third, Florida State fifth – Virginia did not lose a series until weekend-before-last at UNC. The Cavaliers rebounded from that three-game sweep with four consecutive victories in the league tournament.
At least six ACC teams have made the NCAA field in each of the last eight years. Multiple teams from the conference have reached the CWS four of the last five years – Clemson and Florida State advanced last season.
The last five ACC champions -- Florida State, Virginia, Miami, North Carolina and Clemson -- played in the World Series. However, the ACC’s only national baseball champ was Wake Forest in 1955.
The winners of the 16 double-elimination regionals advance to eight best-of-three Super Regionals. The Super Regional champions qualify for the CWS in Omaha, Neb.
The Charlottesville Regional winner faces the UCLA Regional survivor. The other teams playing at UCLA are Fresno State, Cal-Irvine and San Francisco.
James Madison, Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament champion, is the only other state squad in the 64-team bracket. The Dukes, who lead Division I in scoring, open against Florida International and are part of a Chapel Hill Regional that also includes North Carolina and Maine.