For a team that felt borderline embarrassed by its performance Tuesday night in the College World Series, the Virginia Cavaliers were loose, energetic and virtually carefree Wednesday afternoon at Creighton University.
Spirits were so high that impromptu tricycle races between assistant coaches broke out as head coach Brian O'Connor conducted post-practice interviews with media.
Egged on by chuckling players, pitching coach Karl Kuhn won his race by running into an outstretched piece of athletic tape that signified the finish line. Kuhn, not necessarily a small-in-stature man himself, vigorously churned away at the wheels on the tricycle's tiny frame. The pair of trikes were discovered in a utility closet next to the third base dugout at Creighton's stadium.
"I'm convinced in a past life I was a rodeo clown," Kuhn said.
Nearly 14 hours after their three-error, five-hit, 7-1 winner's bracket loss to South Carolina, it was clear the Cavaliers already had put the night behind them and were looking forward to Thursday night's CWS rematch against California. Right-hander Tyler Wilson (9-0, 2.33 ERA) will face Cal's Dixon Anderson (4-3, 3.90). The Cavaliers defeated the Golden Bears 4-1 on Sunday to open their series.
"We're in Omaha, Nebraska, in June. What more do you want?" Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said, smiling. "We're in great spirits."
A native of Omaha, O'Connor played at Creighton in the early 1990s. His 1991 Blue Jays team appeared in the CWS, then at Rosenblatt Stadium. The famed, bronzed statue of celebrating ballplayers that had long stood outside of Rosenblatt, even bears O'Connor's likeness. The statue now sits outside of the new TD Ameritrade Park on the home plate corner of the stadium.
Despite allowing his players to enjoy moments of levity Wednesday, O'Connor still was very much about the business of getting his ballclub to play better ahead of its next game. The loser of the 7 p.m. Thursday contest goes back home. The winner goes on to the CWS semifinal, where it will face 2010 defending champion South Carolina.
"You don't really worry about it that it's now an uphill battle," O'Connor said. "That's obvious, everybody knows what's in front of us. You just really have to take it one game at a time."
Simple and cliché as it sounds, that has been the approach the Cavaliers have taken all postseason when facing similar obstacles.
"All year we've responded very well when we've faced tough times," catcher John Hicks said. "And now, it's lose or go home, which means no one wants to go home."
After being swept by North Carolina in their regular season-ending three-game series in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Cavaliers responded by beating Wake Forest 13-1 in their first game of the ACC tournament. The win sparked an eight-game winning streak and propelled the No. 1 seed into a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional with UC-Irvine. But as high as they had soared during the streak, the climb toward Omaha became even steeper in a matter of one game.
Falling to the Anteaters 6-5 in the second game of the Super Regional, the Cavaliers needed a two-out, bottom of the ninth rally to save their season and send them to the CWS. All it took to make that happen was a Chris Taylor walk-off RBI single up the middle.
"That's the type of character that our ball team has to be able to bounce back like that," Wilson said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now