"This team hung together all year and found a way to get into the NCAA tournament," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "It's just amazing what can happen when a group of guys stay together and play for each other and pick each other up and don't give up. We're very, very proud of this championship and feel very, very fortunate."
After losing to the Commodores in the 2014 CWS finals, the Cavaliers (44-24) were in danger of missing the NCAA playoffs altogether until they swept North Carolina in the final week of the regular season. They came from behind in seven of their 10 tournament victories and staved off elimination three times in the final five days of the CWS. Since the NCAA switched to a four-team regional playoff format in 1999, only three teams seeded third or lower in the first round have made it to Omaha and all three have won titles: No. 3 seed Oregon State in 2007, No. 4 seed Fresno State in 2008 and No. 3 seed Virginia this year.
"I'm not going to say we were more determined this year," junior left-hander Nathan Kirby said, "but we had more of an underlying confidence, because our backs were against the wall so many times."
Pitching on three days' rest, half his normal amount, Cavaliers junior left-hander Brandon Waddell settled down after giving up a four-pitch walk and two doubles to the first four batters he faced. Though his fastball rarely cracked 90 mph, he kept his pitches down in the strike zone and allowed only two more hits through the seventh inning. Waddell won just three times during the regular season while battling blister problems, but he earned two victories in Omaha while pitching 19 innings over three starts in 10 days.
"I was just trying to go as hard as I could for as long as I could," said Waddell, a Pirates fifth-round selection. "At this point, everything in the tank goes. I felt good, but it might just have been adrenaline."
"I was just amazed that he was able to give us seven innings," O'Connor said.
Freshman first baseman Pavin Smith provided all of the offense Virginia would need. Entering Wednesday 5-for-24 in the CWS and 1-for-8 in the finals, he stunned Buehler with a two-run homer into the right-field bleachers to tie the game in the fourth inning. Smith snapped the deadlock an inning later with an RBI single off sophomore lefty Ben Bowden.
Towns added an RBI single in the seventh and Waddell retired his 11th straight batter in the bottom half, leaving the Cavaliers six outs from victory. Normally at that point, they would turn to junior right-hander Josh Sborz, a Dodgers second-rounder.
But Sborz, who would be named Most Outstanding Player of the Series, was unavailable after throwing 77 pitches in four innings while earning the victory on Tuesday. He pitched 13 scoreless innings in four Omaha appearances, tying a CWS record with three wins and also earning a save.
So Virginia called on Kirby, who missed nine weeks after straining the lat muscle behind his throwing shoulder in mid-April. He made his return in a Friday loss to Florida, lasting only 2 2/3 innings while struggling with his command. He was much sharper against Vanderbilt (51-21), striking out five of the eight batters he faced on sliders, including pinch-hitter Kyle Wright to end it.
"I felt like I let the team down when I got injured, because of all the ups and downs we had," said Kirby, a Brewers supplemental first-rounder. "I so wanted to get back on the mound, whether it was for one pitch or one inning or whatever it takes. I couldn't be more excited."
Vanderbilt 5, Virginia 1
Virginia 3, Vanderbilt 0
Virginia 4, Vanderbilt 2