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Better Know a CWS Finals Opponent: University of Virginia

Vanderbilt and UVA will face off in a best of three series starting tonight with the winner being crowned 2014 NCAA Baseball Champions. For the loser, there's a cask of fine Amontillado in my basement. Classic Poe. Here's all you need to know about the team from Charlottesville.

I have no idea what's going on here.
I have no idea what's going on here.

I'm not going to lie to you - UVA will be the toughest team we'll face all year.  However, we'll be the toughest team they've faced all year, too, and isn't that what you want from a championship round?

No.  You'd like it to be easy.  Well I say to hell with that.  Nothing in this life is easy.  Well, except for finding driving directions, or finding out the answers to any factual question instantaneously without having to actually use any brainpower to figure anything out, and then of course there's the contemporary food industry... and God, I hate this generation and its easy answers and shiny baubles!!!

That was a bit of a tangent.  Back to telling you things about the University of Virginia.  First, you need to know a little about the state.  In 1607, the "Colony of Virginia" was established by the "London Company," which sounds like a British Disney Channel show about a kids pop band or something to do with tea, for the purpose of providing England with tobacco and a fiber for making clothing that didn't make you itch constantly.  The colony was named "Virginia" to mock Queen Elizabeth's inability to get laid, as was the custom at the time.

Fast forwarding a sesquicentennial or so... to counter the near-constant virgin jokes and the high cost of tea taxation, a young Thomas Jefferson got a grandiose well-springing of thought, and famously decided that yes, he would impregnate every slave he owned every chance he got.  And he would get a lot of chances.

In 1819, ten years after his presidency, and after nearly 5 decades of continual forced sexual congress with people he continued to own, Jefferson tired, and in his later years, decided he would found a University.  One, he said, "That would be frighteningly difficult for out of state students to attend, and if they did manage to gain admittance, would be confronted with the stark reality that 88% of their classmates would be common rubes who pay $27,000 less per year!"

Classic Poe.

Here's how they got here: UVA opened the season as the top ranked team in the country by a number of publications (pretty much all of them), and promptly lost to Kentucky.  Unfortunately, they played other teams, and beat the majority of them, and here they are today.  They entered the post-season as the #3 National Seed, and just blew by Bucknell and Arkansas to a tune of 10-1, 3-0, and 9-2, respectively.

In their Super Regional match-up, Maryland surprised them with a 5-4 defeat to open the series, but then they realized they were playing Maryland, and beat those moon-faced, crab-cake eating weirdos 7-3 and 11-2 to advance to Omaha.

Though Ole Miss and TCU made them gut it out through low-scoring affairs (*cough TD Ameritrade , cough), Virginia swept through their side of the bracket.


The University of Virginia Cavaliers... err, Wahoos... umm Just Pick A Damned Name and Stick with it, Already

Record: 52-14 (22-8 ACC) #1 RPI

All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 0-2.  Seriously.  I checked it twice.

Best Win: They've got a lot of them (and obviously, their 3 wins in Omaha would rank as best), but I'll go with taking 2 of 3 from Florida State in Talahassee in late April when FSU was just about the hottest team in the country.

Worst Loss: They dropped 2 of 3 at Wake Forest in their last regular season series, but it's got to be that 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh (#157 RPI).

Batter(s) to Keep an Eye On: 1B/OF Mike Papi and OF Derek Fisher.  These two juniors went back-to-back in the compensatory 1st round (picks 37 and 38), so you can surmise what MLB teams think about them.  Fisher, one of the top high school bats in the 2011 draft, doesn't exactly have the stats to back it up on the college level, as he's never once topped the .300 BA mark.  He's plenty talented, and we'll have to watch out for him, but I'd be loathe not to point out his season slash line of .267/.326/.376, and that a broken hammate bone in his right hand earlier this season has pretty much sapped him of his power.  With Mike Papi, however, the production more than matches the talent.  On the season, he's .312/.454/.500 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles, and 56 RBI.

Stats in Omaha (3 games):

Papi: 2-4 (2B), 1-5, 1-3 (.333)

Fisher: 0-4, 1-6, 0-4 (.071)

If we can avoid pitching to Papi with RISP and Fisher continues his cold streak, we'll have a good chance of winning in each game.

Pitcher(s) to Watch: RHP Closer Nick Howard and LHP Nathan Kirby.  I'll start with the finisher... Nick Howard (1st round, pick #19) is not a guy you want to see come out of the bullpen in the 9th.  Since moving to the bullpen, he's amped up his fastball to 95-97mph and touches 98 on occasion.  He throws a slurvy slider which is not exactly easy to hit, either.  Just like when facing Louisville's Nick Burdi, your best bet is to hold the lead late, and render him moot.

Nathan Kirby's the guy we're going to have to worry about tonight.  The sophomore lefty has been their Friday starter, and brings low 90s heat and a devastating slider to the table.  His 9-2 record and 1.70 ERA tells that tale with a bullet, and his 8.76 K/9 and 2.27 BB/9 rates are no joke.  In his last start (6/15 against Ole Miss), the lefty walked 3 and struck out just 4, but still managed to hold one of the most potent offenses in baseball to 1 hit and 1 run in 7 innings.  Boo.  Boo this man!  The one saving grace for Commodores fans is that our team has less trouble with hard-throwing lefties than it does with soft-tossers.  We'll have to jump out to an early lead and hope our pitching can hold it.

Key Stat: I'm going to go back to Derek Fisher's 1-14 CWS thus far.  We're going to need to keep him cold.