1. What were your initial thoughts/reactions when you saw the regional draw (seeing Arkansas in particular) and Virginia's national seed? Was there some shock/disappointment that the selection committee ranked the Cavaliers #3 instead of #1 like they are in the RPI and several polls?
I always expect the Regionals to have a strong #2. I think Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt were expecting Liberty to actually be the #2 seed in Charlottesville's region, so Arkansas was somewhat of a surprise. I don't think you can really complain too much about a Regionals' teams, this is the postseason for a reason and nearly all of the teams deserve to be there, especially the #1s and #2s. I (honestly) didn't know much about Arkansas before the announcement other than they are strong year in and year out. I live in Columbia, SC, so I knew they took 2 of 3 from USC earlier this season, but other than that, I didn't know much about them. Do I wish they had sent a Conference USA team to Charlottesville instead of a perennial NCAA tournament team from the SEC? Absolutely! The committee ranking the Hoos #3 was less of a shock than Arkansas coming to Charlottesville. Losing your final weekend to a non-NCAA Tournament team and going 1-2 in your conference tournament isn't something the #1 team in the country should do. I had been following Fitt and Rogers' predictions, so I had tempered my expectations and thought the #3 or #4 was coming anyways.
2.The Cavaliers are 29-3 in Charlottesville this season, and considering they won't have to leave until potentially heading to Omaha, do fans feel like this is going to be a walk in the park all the way to the College World Series?
Lord, no. If you look at the program's history, you can see the NCAA tournament isn't the kindest to UVa in Charlottesville. Entering this year we've hosted 7 of the last 10 years, and have only made the Super Regionals 4 times (one of those four, we were a #2 seed in the Irvine Regional). Like most teams, UVa is better at home than they are on the road, so playing in Charlottesville will certainly be a help, but it is a privilege this team has earned with their record. I think they will be the favorite in nearly all the games they could possibly play between this weekend and Omaha, but I don't think there is a UVa fan out there that would say it will be a cake walk.
3. It sounds like UVA and Arkansas had similar expectations for their offense this year, should fans give up any future expectations for prolific offenses because of the "new" bats? Or do you attribute the lack of offense to something else?
If I had that answer, Coach O'Connor and I would be better friends than we are. Like many, I saw what this team did last year, and expected them to do the same if not better. It's been a struggle at times, but in the end they've won 44 games. I am of the belief that you do what it takes to win. You only score 4 runs in a W? Cool. You score 9 runs in a W? Also cool. Doesn't matter how it happens, as long as it happens. That said, after looking at the pitching of UVa and Arkansas, I wouldn't expect much offense. Both have superb staffs that can shutdown any offensive threat. Couple that with Davenport Field, where Home Runs go to die (unless you are Wes Rea or that kid from Oklahoma a few years back) and offense should be at a premium.
4. What will Virginia's pitching strategy be this weekend? I know some teams save their ace for the second game, does UVA have that luxury?
Honestly, I am not sure who UVa's "ace" is anymore. Most will say it is Nathan Kirby because he was the Friday guy at the end of the season, threw a no-hitter against Pitt, and was the ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year, but I am not sold. Brandon Waddell started the year as the Friday guy and Artie Lewicki has the stuff to be a Friday guy if he is fully healthy (coming off of arm surgery so pitched during the week most of the season). Lewicki will pitch on Friday against Bucknell, so should the two square off, Arkansas will likely face Kirby. I wouldn't call that "saving" Kirby for Saturday, but that is what will likely happen. Virginia was blessed this year with a very deep rotation and is fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose when to throw who based on matchups.
5. Not pull the scab off of old wounds, but you were a catcher on that '09 Virginia College World Series team that had an epic 12 inning battle with Arkansas in Omaha. What are your memories of that game and are some of the baseball alumni from that team hoping the Razorbacks win the first game so these guys get a shot at revenge?
They're not great memories, I can tell you that. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried like a 12 year old after that game knowing that my baseball career was over, but I was more than proud of what that team accomplished. We were the first team to make it out of the regionals, let alone Omaha, and I knew the program was on a steep rise. I do remember being up early and falling apart late, we had a pinch runner get lost between 2nd and 3rd on a run that could have won the game (maybe even twice), we had a couple of opportunities to take the game and didn't, our close gave up a hanger to tie the game, and I remember Eibner (I think) hitting a moonshot to give Arkansas the lead. I also remember most of our guys needing sunglasses and a nap on the plane ride back to Charlottesville the next day; the sun and airplane were being really loud for some reason. I can't speak for all the former baseball guys, but I can say for myself, I would much rather see Liberty win! If UVa can face a team they have already beaten this year and play at least once every other year, I would much rather do that than play an SEC team. I think most of us are just concerned with them getting to Omaha, and the easier the path, the better! Also, on a personal level, I don't need to relive that 2009 game through ESPN's highlights and footage. Less reminders the better.
6. Your Prediction:
I hope most don't see this as a "homer" pick, but I think UVa comes out. I am certainly concerned about Arkansas and Liberty, but I think UVa's starting pitching and bullpen give them the edge. Hell, everyone in the country has been waiting for UVa's offense to break out, maybe it will be this weekend. I say this trying to be objective, because as the #1 seed and a National Seed, you almost have to pick them. There is a reason the #1 seeds are hosting, and a reason UVa is a National Seed. Do I think Arkansas or Liberty could come out of the Region? Sure, but my money (hypothetical of course) will be on the Cavaliers this weekend.
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