CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia’s Josh Sborz last started a month ago, and when he walked two Maryland hitters in the first inning of the deciding game of the Charlottesville Regional it looked like the decision to put the sophomore back on the mound might backfire.
A short conversation with third baseman Kenny Towns settled him down, and one double-play grounder paved the way for seven shutout innings and an 11-2 win in Game 3 Monday night that sent the Cavaliers to the College World Series for the third time in six seasons.
Sborz (5-4) allowed four hits and three walks while striking out nine and was coaxed out of the Cavaliers’ dugout in the top of the eighth when the sold-out home crowd at Davenport Field demanded a curtain call.
"It felt amazing. There’s never been a better experience than that in my life," Sborz said.
The national No. 3 Cavaliers, the highest remaining seed in the CWS, will play Mississippi on Sunday. Ole Miss defeated Louisiana-Lafayette to end a 42-year CWS drought.
Monday night’s 13-hit rout culminated a weekend comeback for Virginia, which lost the first game of the Super Regional before cruising to victory Sunday and Monday. The win boosted Virginia’s record to 3-1 in deciding games of Super Regionals.
Towns went 3 for 4, driving in four runs on a triple and a single to force Maryland starter Bobby Ruse out of the game after 2 1-3 innings. Ruse (7-3) gave up six runs on six hits and a walk.
Sborz has had control issues much of the season, and after pitching primarily as the Cavaliers’ No. 2 starter much of the season, he was moved out of the weekend rotation in May. Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, however, said he never doubted Sborz’s abilities, which include a fastball that was still hitting the mid-90s in the seventh inning Monday.
"That double play was huge," O’Connor said of the slider that Sborz threw to force an inning-ending grounder by Maryland third baseman Jose Cuas in the top of the first. "It had so much to do with his confidence and ability to attack the batters. He’s certainly had his wild streaks at times, but he always keeps the game in check."
Ruse could not do the same for Maryland. Virginia jumped on the Terrapins junior in the bottom of the first after he hit shortstop Daniel Pinero in the back. Right fielder Joe McCarthy hit a line drive up the middle off of Ruse’s leg, and left fielder Derek Fisher followed up by driving the first pitch up the middle to score Pinero from second.
Towns then blasted a triple off the left-field wall that drove in two more runs. Maryland left fielder Tim Lewis had to retrieve his glove after leaping in vain to make the grab and losing it over the wall.
"Bobby has been a strike thrower for us all year and has been very effective," Maryland coach John Szefc said. "You’ve got to realize what we ran into tonight. (Virginia) is by far the most talented team we’ve played all year. Not even close. . That is an absolute college baseball monster there."
Towns came up to bat again in the third inning with two on and Maryland pausing to discuss pitching strategy. Whatever they discussed didn’t work, as Towns sent a 1-1 pitch into left field to score two more runs and make it 5-0.
After Maryland reliever Tayler Stiles walked the bases loaded, Virginia center fielder Brandon Downes hit a grounder up the middle to close out the scoring for the inning and effectively put the game out of reach.
"It’s huge for us," Downes said of the opportunity to score early and clinch a trip to the College World Series on their home field. "The past two seasons, we had our seasons end with other teams dog-piling on our field."
Maryland scored two runs in the eighth when senior shortstop Blake Schmit hit a two-run, two-out double down the third-base line off Cavaliers reliever Austin Young. Virginia called in relief ace Nick Howard to end the threat and he induced a groundout from Lewis on his first pitch.
The Cavaliers responded in the bottom of the eighth with five runs to pad their lead to 11-2 and prompt the crowd to begin chanting, "ACC," in reference to the Terrapins’ final game as a league rival before their move to the Big Ten.
Second baseman Branden Cogswell and shortstop Daniel Pinero each drove in two runs for Virginia.