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Better Know a College World Series Championship Opponent: The Virginia Cavaliers

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Last year, Vanderbilt and Virginia dueled to an all-time classic in the College World Series finale. Now they'll get a chance to run it back when they meet with the 2015 NCAA Championship on the line.

Reminder: Mike Papi is still a dick.
Reminder: Mike Papi is still a dick.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Vanderbilt used their only home run of the College World Series to clinch their first ever men's NCAA Championship. Now, a Virginia team that was one misplaced pitch away from a title in 2014 will get a chance for revenge.

Vanderbilt and Virginia will meet in the College World Series Championship for the second straight year starting on Monday night. Despite each team's credentials, they took a crooked path to set up this title-settling rematch. After beginning the season as D1Baseball.com's #1 (Vandy) and #3 (Virginia) programs, each team slumped their way to disappointing midseason defeats that eventually dropped them from National Seed consideration. Though the Commodores rebounded to clinch the SEC East title and advance to the SEC Tournament championship game, things weren't as easy for the Cavaliers.

Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament on the periphery of the top 25 and slid all the way to a #3 seed when the bracket was drawn. They've caught fire since losing three straight games to close out the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers went three weeks without losing a game before falling to Florida at the College World Series, then shook off that loss to set up tomorrow's championship rematch.

Historically, the Commodores will have an edge when the series starts on Monday night. Reigning champions have returned to the CWS championship 12 times. Those teams have defended their title nine times. This year's final will be also the third time in NCAA history that two teams have met in championship series in back-to-back years. In each case, the team that won the first year went on to repeat.

While history may be on Vanderbilt's side, each team has a certain "team of destiny" feel. The Commodores are loaded with MLB Draft picks and have used some clutch home runs to advance through their bracket in Omaha. Virginia is running down an underdog dream by rolling through their opponents despite a "#3" next to their name. Let's take a closer look at the 'Hoos and what they'll have to offer this week.

The University of Virginia

Record: 42-23 (15-15 ACC) #11 RPI

All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 1-3. That includes last year's 1-2 mark in the CWS final and a game played in 1929 whose outcome has been lost to the ravages of time and shoddy record keeping. Since all Vanderbilt athletics did before World War II was win meaningless stuff, let's chalk that up as a win.

How'd They Get Here?: As a #3 seed, their season was slated to end a couple of weeks ago. Instead, they blasted through a Lake Elsinore Regional that lost #1 seed UC-Santa Barbara when the Gauchos couldn't win a single game. That left the Cavaliers to dispatch USC and San Diego State before a Super Regional showdown with former ACC rival Maryland.

The 'Hoos won that matchup in straight games and carried that momentum over to the College World Series. Despite long odds, Virginia beat Arkansas before taking two of three games against Florida (two one-run wins sandwiched around a 5-10 loss) to set up a rematch with the Commodores. Vanderbilt and Virginia have just one NCAA Tournament loss between them.

Best Win: This week's CWS performance against #1 Florida. The Cavaliers prevented the Gators from making the 2015 championship series an all-SEC affair by winning a pair of razor-thin games in Omaha. Brandon Waddell allowed only five baserunners in seven innings as the 'Hoos ground down UF with a 1-0 win on Monday, then suffered a big defeat in the return match to set up a winner-takes-all showdown last Saturday. Waddell wasn't as good this time around - he was tagged for four runs in five innings - but reliever Josh Sborz spun four scoreless frames to give UVA all the space they needed to beat the Gators and advance to the CWS finale.

Worst Loss: A three-game sweep at the hands of #75 Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers had plenty of conference losses; counting the league tournament, they went 16-18 against ACC foes. A March beating at the hands of their cross-state rival was the worst of these defeats. The Hokies never won any of those games by more than two runs, but it was enough to raise major questions about UVA's 2015 squad, even with a healthy Nathan Kirby on the mound.

Batter(s) to Keep an Eye On: Matt Thaiss leads the Cavaliers in batting average (.337), and home runs (10), but third baseman Kenny Towns's clutch hitting may make him the more dangerous batter in Omaha. Towns drove in three runs in UVA's clutch 5-4 win over Florida on Saturday and he's been responsible for six of his team's 16 runs at the College World Series. He batted .308 the last time these two programs met with a national title on the line.

Pitcher(s) to Watch: Connor Jones (7-2, 3.05 ERA) turned in a quality start against Arkansas and is a safe bet to take the mound in game one on Monday night. Josh Sborz has thrown nine innings of relief in Omaha and has yet to give up a run. He's thrown lots of long innings as the Cavs' closer and batters are hitting just .160 against him.

The X-factor here is Nathan Kirby, who Vanderbilt fans may remember as the imploding pile of dust that allowed the Commodores to post a nine-run inning in the first game of last year's CWS championship. He missed approximately two months of action after straining a back muscle in April but returned to face Florida on Friday night.

That start went poorly. Kirby didn't make it out of the third inning while allowing the Gators to take a 4-0 lead. He'll get an opportunity for revenge against the 'Dores this week, but he'll have to prove that Friday's start was just a case of rust and not a deeper problem stemming from his injury.

Key Stat: 2. The Cavaliers are 6-0 this postseason in games decided by two runs or less. They've lost four games over that span by an average deficit of 5.6 runs. When Virginia loses, they typically get blown out - but their experience in last year's College World Series has paid off in close games this postseason.  Vanderbilt will have to jump on the 'Hoos early to keep them from using their alligator blood to pull out a late-inning win.