Brian O'Connor could not have asked for a better all-around performance from his UVA ball club to open NCAA Tournament play at the Greenville Regional. The Cavaliers flashed some leather in several highlight defensive plays at key moments, delivered opportunistic and clutch hits to drive in runs in the third and fifth innings, and got a brilliant performance on the mound from starting pitcher Nate Savino as Virginia rolled to a 7-2 victory over Coastal Carolina on Friday night.
"I’m just proud of our guys," said UVA head coach Brian O'Connor. "They got big two-strike hits, a few two-out hits. [Alex Tappen] over here made two outstanding diving plays in left field. Those were big, big moments in the game and to kind of stop momentum for them. So excited about our effort tonight and looking forward to tomorrow night.”
Now, UVA will look to take control of the Greenville Regional as the Cavaliers advance in the winners' bracket to face East Carolina on Saturday at 7pm (ACC Network). The winner of the Virginia-East Carolina game will need to win just one more game to advance to the Super Regional and will have two tries to do so, giving the winner of Saturday night's game the inside track to winning the Greenville Regional.
In order to capture that key advantage, Virginia will have to go through an East Carolina team that is as good as it is hungry. The Pirates have made 32 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and have won six NCAA regional championships, but have never advanced to the College World Series. This season, East Carolina has perhaps its best shot at making it all the way to Omaha as the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Pirates are 43-18 this season and have won 19 games in a row, including a dominant 17-1 win over Coppin State that included an incredible moment as center fielder Bryson Worrell managed to hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate, in the same inning.
Virginia and East Carolina have met 52 times in an all-time series that dates back to 1967. UVA holds a 31-21 edge in those games, but ECU has taken four of the last five games, including a key matchup in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at the Charlottesville Regional. The Pirates beat the Cavaliers 8-6 in the winners' bracket and went on to win the Charlottesville Regional that season.
Exactly six years later to the day, the Cavaliers will have a chance to repay the favor as they look to knock off the top-seeded Pirates on their home field.
As determined by a coin flip, East Carolina will be the home team and Virginia will be the visiting team for Saturday night's game. Second-Team All-ACC pitcher Brian Gursky (7-2) is the expected starter for the Cavaliers and the Pirates will likely send out lefty C.J. Mayhue (4-1) to start on the mound. The game is reportedly sold out.
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