The University of Virginia logo features two crossed swords. But a look at the Cavaliers' vaunted baseball team indicates that UC Irvine, which visits Virginia for a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional beginning Saturday at 10 a.m., will be facing a team that has more than a two-pronged attack.
The Cavaliers (52-9), the No. 1 national seed in the 64-team NCAA Tournament who have both the most wins and fewest losses of any team in the field, are as impressive as any squad in recent memory.
Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-American left-hander Danny Hultzen, who was picked second overall in the major league draft Monday by the Seattle Mariners, are a combined 30-4 with a 1.82 earned-run average and 349 strikeouts in 2862/3 innings.
Offensively, juniors Steven Proscia (.341 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in) and John Hicks (.339 with seven homers and 54 RBIs), both first-team All-ACC honorees and drafted in the seventh and fourth round, respectively, by Seattle, lead the way.
And if pitching and offense aren't enough, ACC Coach of the Year Brian O'Connor's squad has a team fielding percentage of .980.
“Clearly, they are a heavyweight,” said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, whose then-No. 1-ranked Anteaters lost twice and were eliminated by Virginia in the Irvine Regional in 2009. “We learned that the hard way. There's no sugar-coating it, they are good and its going to require us to be as good as we can possibly be.”
The Anteaters (42-16) played well enough to defeat three conference champions to win the Los Angeles Regional, completed Sunday at UCLA. They, too, boast offense, pitching and defense that has, at varying times, been dazzling.
UCI is batting .299 with a 2.90 team ERA and a fielding percentage of .979.
But UCI, ranked as high as No. 12 in the final national polls (Collegiate Baseball), managed two one-run victories, as well as a 12-6 verdict in the regional, to earn the program's third super regional berth in the last five seasons.
Virginia, batting .307 as a team with a 2.27 cumulative ERA, swept through its own regional, outscoring its three victims, 29-3, and averaging 14 strikeouts per contest.
UVA also swept four ACC Tournament games and is on a seven-game winning streak. It has also posted winning streaks of 13 and 12 games and other than being swept in a three-game series at ACC rival North Carolina (May 19-21), has not lost more than one consecutive game.
It's UVA's pitching that is easily its most impressive component.
Hultzen, a Golden Spikes Award finalist, is 31-5 with a 2.18 ERA and 378 strikeouts in 3051/3 career innings. He is also a .323 career hitter with 81 RBIs, who went seven for 11 with five RBIs to help garner Most Outstanding Player honors in last weekend's regional.
He is backed up by junior Will Roberts (a fifth-round pick by the Cleveland Indians), who is 11-1 with a 1.61 ERA, and senior Tyler Wilson (a 10th-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles), who is 8-0 with a 2.34 ERA.
UCI will match up junior All-American Matt Summers with Hultzen in the opener. Summers, a fourth-round pick by the Minnesota Twins, who was the Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year, is 11-2 with a 1.72 ERA. He has won his last six starts and his last nine decisions, and yielded just one earned run in his last three starts. Those three starts have spanned 24 innings and included a no-hitter against Long Beach State on May 27.
UCI sophomore left-hander Matt Whitehouse (4-0, 2.14 ERA) will start Saturday, while Sunday's starter figures to be either freshman Andrew Thurman (3-3, 3.91) or junior Crosby Slaught (7-2, 3.97).
UCI is led offensively by first-team all-conference performers Brian Hernandez (.351 with 85 hits and 31 RBIs) and Drew Hillman (.336 with five homers and 50 RBIs).
Hernandez, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year who was drafted in the 27th round by the Angels, also has 12 saves as the team's closer.
Hillman, a left fielder and a former two-time All-American at Orange Coast College, was taken in the 18th round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
But all nine hitters in the UCI lineup have at least 25 RBIs, including junior designated hitter Jordan Leyland, who drove in six runs in the Los Angeles Regional and has four homers and 42 RBIs on the season.
“We've got to scratch and claw and make ourselves tough outs against a legitimate ace [Hultzen, who blanked UCI over 71/3 innings to earn a win in the 2009 regional],” Gillespie said. “And when the opportunity comes to skill it up [bunting as well as the hit and run] then we've got to get it done.”
Sunday's game is also scheduled for 10 a.m. If needed, Monday's game time would be determined. The first two games will be televised on ESPNU. The third game, if needed, would be shown on either ESPNU or ESPN2.
The winners of all eight super regionals will advance to the College World Series, beginning June 18 in Omaha, Neb.