Sborz looking to lead Virginia to a title
OMAHA, Neb. -- A year ago, Josh Sborz had an opportunity to deliver Virginia its first College World Series championship. Given the start in the final game against Vanderbilt, he lasted just one inning in what would become a one-run loss for the Cavaliers.
Switched from starter to closer in 2015, Sborz has given Virginia another chance at a national championship. The junior right-hander pitched four scoreless innings Friday night, earning the victory as the Cavaliers (42-23) eliminated Florida 5-4. They'll get a rematch against the Commodores, with the best-of-the-three finals beginning Monday night at 8 p.m. ET.
A day after losing 10-5 to the Gators (52-18), Virginia erased 2-1 and 3-2 deficits before taking the lead for good on senior third baseman Kenny Towns' sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Cavaliers have scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning or later in each of their eight NCAA tournament wins this year, coming from behind in six of them.
"This team has, in this postseason run, just been amazing," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "The toughness and resiliency of this group has been really, really impressive, the heart that they've continued to show is a lot of fun to watch. And this game is kind of a small microcosm of what our postseason's been like."
Besides the repeated comebacks and late-inning heroics, another constant in the Cavaliers' playoff success has been Sborz. A supplemental second-round pick of the Dodgers, he has allowed just one unearned run in 15 postseason innings while earning three victories and three saves. He has had a hand in each of Virginia's three wins in Omaha, beating Arkansas in the opener and saving a second-round 1-0 defeat of Florida.
"That's easily the best lineup I've faced or our team has faced all year," Sborz said of the Gators, who averaged 7.8 runs per game in Omaha while the other seven teams have averaged 3.8. "You see how they've absolutely crushed the ball. A lot of people counted us out after we lost yesterday. They whooped us yesterday, but we just haven't backed down as a team."
After allowing an inherited runner to score and tie the game in the sixth inning, Sborz retired 11 of the last 13 batters he faced. He dialed his fastball up from 91-94 mph in the sixth and seventh to 93-96 mph in the eighth, then relied almost exclusively on his best pitch in the ninth. He threw 12 mid-80s sliders among his 13 pitches in the last frame, getting Athletics first-round choice Richie Martin to ground out to end it.
His effort got Virginia back to the CWS finals, an opportunity Sborz has hoped for during the last 12 months. Though he's coming off his second-longest relief outing of the season, he indicated that he'd be ready Monday if needed.
"We got a little bittersweet taste of the finals last year and I just want to pitch again," he said. "I'd like to throw more than one inning this time -- unless it's closing the ninth."
Virginia 5, Florida 4 (Florida eliminated)
Virginia at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET
Vanderbilt at Virginia, 8 p.m. ET
Virginia vs. Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET (if necessary)