Virginia beats Florida 5-4, faces Vandy in CWS finals again
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Virginia is back in the College World Series finals, and this time it was a lot harder getting there.
The Cavaliers came from behind twice Saturday night to defeat Florida 5-4, and it was a couple of old reliables who made it happen. Josh Sborz pitched four innings of shutout relief, and Kenny Towns delivered the winning run on a seventh-inning sacrifice fly.
So now after overcoming injuries, narrowly qualifying for its conference tournament and having to play regionals on the West Coast Virginia gets another crack at defending national champion Vanderbilt in the first finals rematch since 2006-07. The best-of-three series starts Monday.
"They're all special, certainly, but this one's different," Cavaliers coach Brian O'Connor said. "How this team has navigated and what they've been through to get here is really, really special and memorable. They have a lot of pride in playing for each other. They're going to give it everything they've got. They're going to be prepared. And it's been a lot of fun to coach."
Last year, the Cavaliers won 53 games and came to Omaha as the No. 3 national seed.
This year, they were a No. 3 regional seed.
Virginia (42-23), which lost 10-5 to Florida on Friday, took two of three CWS games against the Gators (52-18) and now has won eight of its nine NCAA Tournament games.
"We're a really tough team," Towns said. "We're really resilient. When teams put some runs up on us, we come back and return the favor and give ourselves a chance to win some games."
Sborz (6-2) ran his shutout innings streak to 23 since May 15, getting Richie Martin to ground out after Harrison Bader reached on a two-out single in the ninth. Danny Lewis (6-2) took the loss.
After second baseman Ernie Clement flipped the ball to shortstop Daniel Pinero for the final out, catcher Matt Thaiss ran to the mound and embraced Sborz and first baseman Pavin Smith and Towns, the third baseman, dashed across the diamond to do a jumping back bump.
The Cavaliers took the lead for good after Lewis intentionally walked Thaiss to load the bases with one out in the seventh. Towns, Virginia's career leader in NCAA Tournament RBIs who hit a game-winning double against Arkansas earlier in the week, sent a sacrifice fly to right to bring home Clement for his third RBI of the game.
Towns wasn't surprised Florida opted to put Thaiss on base to set up forces all around.
"When you think about it, it's a smart play," Towns said. "It's to set up the double play. And obviously Matt's been a very dangerous hitter and helps us out a lot. So I didn't take any offense to it or think anything of it. I was just happy to be able to get an opportunity to drive in another run."
Sborz, who hasn't allowed a run since the eighth inning against North Carolina over a month ago, allowed three hits in relief of Brandon Waddell.
Thaiss homered in the first inning, and Florida's Peter Alonso hit a two-run shot 429 feet over the center-field wall for the longest home run in TD Ameritrade Park's five years.
After Smith tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly for Virginia in the fourth, Bader homered leading off the fifth to make it 3-2 Florida. The Cavaliers went back ahead in the bottom half, with Thaiss scoring the go-ahead run from first on Towns' two-RBI double down the left-field line.
Florida tied it at 4 in the sixth on Mike Rivera's single off Sborz, who entered with none out after Schwarz singled off Waddell.
"When you get to this part of the season, the end of the season, it's just so abrupt," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It's just like a runaway train: it's over. It's over like that. We seemed to answer the bell every time we needed to when our backs were against the wall. Tonight just didn't work out for us."