PREVIEW: Virginia Baseball Opens 2024 College World Series vs. UNC Friday

Ethan Anderson runs to first base during the Virginia baseball game vs. Florida at the College World Series in Omaha.
Ethan Anderson runs to first base during the Virginia baseball game vs. Florida at the College World Series in Omaha. / Virginia Athletics

No. 12 Virginia baseball (46-15) is set to open play at the 2024 College World Series against No. 4 North Carolina (47-14) on Friday at 2pm (ESPN) at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.

See score updates and live analysis for Virginia vs. North Carolina in the College World Series here: Virginia vs. North Carolina Live Updates | College World Series

The winner of Friday's game will take on the winner of No. 1 Tennessee and No. 8 Florida State (Friday at 7pm) in the winner's bracket game on Sunday at 7pm, while the losers will meet in an elimination game on Sunday at 2pm. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida State will play a regional-style, double-elimination tournament until one team is left standing to advance to the best-of-three CWS finals.

Read on for a full preview of Virginia baseball at the 2024 College World Series, including details on the bracket and schedule, analysis on Friday's matchup between the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels, brief scouting reports on the other teams on UVA's side of the CWS bracket, interviews and quotes from Virginia players and Brian O'Connor, and notes on UVA at the College World Series.

2024 College World Series Bracket & Schedule

See score updates for every game of the 2024 College World Series here.

Official bracket for the 2024 College World Series
Official bracket for the 2024 College World Series / NCAA

Previewing Virginia vs. North Carolina

Virginia has played North Carolina more times than any other team. The 316th all-time meeting between the Cavaliers and Tar Heels will be the first matchup between these two rivals in the NCAA Tournament. In the most recent series, then-No. 15 UVA took two out of three games over then-No. 10 UNC in Charlottesville on the first weekend of April.

Virginia took game one in a 14-11 shootout that saw freshman Henry Ford become the first Cavalier to hit three home runs in a single game since Dan Street in 2002. In game two, which featured the exact pitching matchup we will see in Friday's College World Series game, Evan Blanco won the battle with UNC's Jason DeCaro, giving up jus two earned runs on six hits and striking out seven batters in 6.1 innings of work, leading the Cavaliers to a series-clinching 7-2 victory. North Carolina avoided the sweep by scoring six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to pull away for a 12-7 win in game three.

Both teams have emphasized that the early April series in Charlottesville bears little significance for this single-game rematch on the biggest stage in college baseball more than two months later. Both teams have improved drastically since then, with the Tar Heels winning four of their last five ACC series and securing the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Cavaliers winning four out of their last six series and earning the No.12 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UNC opened the Chapel Hill Regional with strong wins over LIU and defending-champions LSU before suffering an 8-4 loss to the Tigers to force the winner-take-all game 7. That final game was a thriller, with the Tar Heels winning 4-3 in 10 innings to advance to the Super Regionals. Hosting West Virginia in the Supers, North Carolina took game one 8-6 on a walk-off home run from Vance Honeycutt and then outlasted the Mountaineers in a 2-1 pitchers' duel to send the Heels back to the College World Series for the first time since 2018 and 12th time in program history.

Virginia, meanwhile, is back in Omaha for the third time in the last four years and seventh time in program history after going 5-0 through the NCAA Tournament so far. While the vaunted UVA bats, which still rank top five in the country in many offensive categories, have been the strength of the team all season long, it was the resurgent Virginia pitching staff which has fueled the Wahoos to the College World Series. After averaging nearly 10 runs per game this season, UVA won the Charlottesville Regional with final scores of 4-2 over Penn, 5-4 over Mississippi State, and 9-2 over Mississippi State again, with that final victory coming on the shoulders of an incredible performance by Jay Woolfolk. In the Super Regional, the Cavaliers used a combination of continued elite pitching and timely two-out hitting to post 7-4 and 10-4 victories over Kansas State to punch their latest ticket to the College World Series.

READ MORE: 3 College World Series Appearances in 4 Years: How Virginia Got Back to Omaha

Virginia's overall pitching numbers have improved in the last couple of weeks, but the statistics still show a team that will lean heavily on an offense that ranks 1st in hits, 2nd in batting average, 4th in scoring, 6th in on-base percentage, and 11th in home runs. North Carolina, on the other hand, has achieved the balanced style of baseball UVA seems to have begun playing in June. The Tar Heels rank in the top 35 nationally in scoring, hits, and home runs, but also team ERA and WHIP.

See a full breakdown of how the Hoos and Heels stack up against each other from a statistical standpoint in the graphic below:

Statistical comparison between Virginia and North Carolina ahead of the 2024 College World Series.
Statistical comparison between Virginia and North Carolina ahead of the 2024 College World Series. / Virginia Athletics/North Carolina Athletics

Announced Starting Pitchers for Virginia vs. North Carolina

Here's who will be starting on the mound for the Cavaliers and Tar Heels on Friday:
Virginia - LHP Evan Blanco: 17 starts (17 appearances), 92.2 IP, 3.69 ERA, 8-3 W-L, 95 strikeouts, 25 walks
North Carolina - RHP Jason DeCaro: 17 starts (17 appearances), 85.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 6-1 W-L, 72 strikeouts, 40 walks

Brief Scouting Report on Tennessee and Florida State

Virginia will face either No. 1 overall seed Tennessee (55-12) or No. 8 seed Florida State (47-15) on Sunday (2pm or 7pm).

We'll start with the Volunteers, who earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three years after a brilliant run in the SEC Tournament that saw Tennessee lose its first game, but then bounce back to win the next four to claim the conference championship. Tennessee breezed through the Knoxville Regional 3-0 with a combined 33-12 margin of victory. Drawing a No. 4 seed in the Super Regional, the Vols beat Evansville 11-6 in the opener, but were then stunned by the Purple Aces in a 10-8 loss on Saturday to force a game three. Tennessee left little doubt on Sunday, crushing Evansville 12-1 and, like Virginia, advancing to the College World Series for the third time in four years and seventh time in program history.

The Vols are led by First-Team All-SEC selections in second baseman Christian Moore and outfielder Dylan Dreiling and currently lead the country by a wide margin with 173 home runs hit as a team this season.

Florida State and Virginia met once this season, with the Seminoles prevailing 12-7 to win Pool D at the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, where FSU advanced all the way to the title game before falling to Duke. The Seminoles earned the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and, like the Cavaliers, have yet to lose a game. FSU ran away with the Tallahassee Regional, beating Stetson 7-2 and then UCF twice, 5-2 and 12-4. Florida State set the NCAA Super Regional scoring and margin of victory record with a 24-4 win over UConn and then beat the Huskies again the next day, this time in a 12-inning thriller as James Tibbs III hit his third home run of the game to help the Seminoles win 10-8 and clinch their 24th College World Series appearance in program history and first since 2019.

James Tibbs III was named the ACC Player of the Year after leading the conference in home runs (24) and RBI (78) in the regular season. The Seminoles are also led by lefty ace Jamie Arnold, who ranks third in the country in strikeouts with 155.

Tennessee and Florida State will play in the second CWS game on Friday at 7pm on ESPN.

Sound Off: Interviews with UVA Players and Quotes from Brian O'Connor

Watch the video below to hear from sophomore pitcher Evan Blanco, junior outfielder Casey Saucke, graduate outfielder Bobby Whalen, and junior pitcher Jay Woolfolk:

Opening statement from Brian O'Connor at Virginia's press conference on Thursday in Omaha:

"We're extremely excited to be back here in Omaha. As I was saying out there to a couple of the reporters, that you just don't get tired of hearing people say, when you bring a team back here, Welcome back. Right? The fact that it's not "Welcome," the fact that it's "back" after it is a very -- we have a lot of pride in that. Two of these guys wore this uniform in this stadium and competed in this event last year that are up here.

That said, it's about this year's team's journey. They have earned the right all year long because of their professionalism, the way they went about their business all year long. And when it matters the most over the last two weeks, they played excellent baseball.

So I can tell you as the coach, I have a ton of confidence in this group that they're going to continue to compete and rise up in this World Series because I've seen it so many times this year that this team does whatever it takes to give themselves the best chance to win.

Certainly as a program and as a university, we're honored to be back here in Omaha representing our great institution, and these guys are excited about the opportunity they have starting tomorrow afternoon."

Notes on Virginia at the College World Series

  • Virginia is making its seventh appearance at the College World Series in the last 15 NCAA Tournaments.
  • UVA is back in the College World Series for the second-consecutive year and third time in the last four years.
  • In their previous six trips to Omaha, the Cavaliers have amassed a 13-12 record, twice advancing to the College World Series finals (2014 and 2015) and winning the NCAA national championship in 2015.
  • Virginia is 120-191-4 all-time against North Carolina in a series that dates back to 1891, but the Cavaliers and Tar Heels have never met in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Similarly, UVA is is 34-61 all-time against Florida State in a series that dates back to 1972, but the Cavaliers and Seminoles have never met in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Virginia and Tennessee have played only once before, a 6-0 victory for the Cavaliers over the No. 3 overall seed Volunteers in the opening game of the 2021 College World Series.

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Matt Newton

MATT NEWTON

Managing Editor and Publisher, CavaliersNow Email: mattnewton@virginia.eduTwitter: @mattynewtssWebsite | LinkedIn | Instagram Matt Newton is the managing editor and publisher at CavaliersNow. He has been covering UVA athletics since 2019 and has been the managing editor at CavaliersNow since launching the site in August 2021. Matt covers all things UVA sports, including Virginia basketball and football news and recruiting, former Wahoos in the pros, and coverage of all 23 of the NCAA Division I sports teams at the University of Virginia. A native of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, Matt grew up a huge Philadelphia sports fan, but has also been a UVA sports fanatic his entire life thanks to his parents, who are alums of the University of Virginia. Matt followed in his parents' footsteps and attended UVA from 2017-2021, graduating with a degree in Media Studies and a minor in Economics in May of 2021.