(Part 7 of an eight-part series previewing the College World Series)
While its pitching has been a constant throughout the season, the Virginia Cavaliers' batting order appears to be peaking at the right time.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball newspaper, the Cavaliers (49-14) take on Ole Miss on Sunday at 7 p.m. in the final first round game at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Surviving an NCAA Tournament bracket that has produced a rash of upsets, Virginia and TCU are the only national seeds in Omaha.
Virginia went 3-0 in the Charlottesville Regional. After dropping a 5-4 verdict to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland in Game 1 of the Charlottesville Super Regional, the Cavaliers stormed back to take Games 2 and 3 (7-3, 11-2).
This marks Virginia's third CWS appearance, all under Omaha-born coach Brian O'Connor, who played in the 1991 CWS for Creighton.
Virginia won two out of three from Ole Miss in the 2009 Charlottesville Super Regional to clinch the first CWS bid in school history. The Cavaliers, who also reached the 2011 CWS, are 3-4 in their previous two trips to Omaha.
Texas, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and 2013 national champion UCLA are the only six teams to qualify for the CWS three times over the past six years.
Featuring three first-round picks, the Wahoos had eight players selected in the recent Major League Draft. Junior righthander Nick Howard went to the Cleveland Indians as the No. 17 overall pick. Junior left fielder Derek Fisher and junior first baseman Mike Papi went back-to-back in the competitive balance round to the Houston Astros at No. 37 and the Cincinnati Reds at No. 38, respectively.
Despite struggling at the plate throughout the regular season, the Cavaliers are hitting .316 in six NCAA Tournament games.
Papi has been a steady force throughout the season, leading the team in batting average (.311), on base percentage (.453), slugging (.505), home runs (11), RBI (54) and walks (55). He is 12-for-25 (.480) in six NCAA Tournament games.
Sophomore right fielder Joe McCarthy (.305 batting average, 6 HRs, 46 RBI) has swiped 11 bases in 12 tries.
Fisher (.285-3-26), who missed 20-plus games due to a March injury, has nine RBI in postseason play.
Junior third baseman/designated hitter Kenny Towns (.273-2-33) is batting .370 with seven RBI in the NCAA Tournament.
Among the Cavaliers' remaining key players are junior second baseman Brandon Cogswell (.292, 21 RBI), freshman shortstop Daniel Pinero (.266, 19 RBI) and junior center fielder Brandon Downes (.233-7-37).
Virginia's pitching staff has compiled a 2.31 team ERA while ranking No. 1 in the nation in hits allowed (6.5).
Sophomore lefthanders Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.73) and Brandon Waddell (9-3, 2.66) head the starting staff. Also available to start are sophomore righthander Josh Sborz (5-4, 3.04) and Artie Lewick (6-1, 1.62).
Senior righthanders Whit Mayberry (6-1, 1.59) and freshman righthander (6-0, 1.23) are the key setup men for junior righthander Nick Howard (2-1, 2.05, 19 saves).