Virginia's 2009 baseball season was down to its final five outs when Danny Hultzen hit a grounder to second base. A record Ole Miss crowd of 10,323, and maybe even the Cavaliers themselves, sensed the Rebels were heading to the College World Series.
Until Evan Button's throwing error allowed Hultzen to reach, kickstarting a 2-run, eighth-inning rally that lifted Virginia to a 4-3, series-tying victory. The next day, U.Va. defeated Mississippi again to reach the program's first CWS.
Last season, the Cavaliers appeared destined for a return to Omaha, Neb. They bested visiting Oklahoma in Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regional and had won 22 of their last 25.
But the Sooners dominated Games 2 and 3, handing Virginia its first consecutive losses of an otherwise remarkable season.
The contrast is not lost on coach Brian O'Connor as he prepares the Cavaliers for this weekend's Super Regional against UC Irvine in Charlottesville. Games are scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and, if necessary, Monday.
"Maybe it was assumed by everybody that we were supposed to win and go to Omaha again (last year)," O'Connor said. "Maybe we learned that you can't take anything for granted. We're not one of those storied programs in the history of college baseball that's been to Omaha 10 times. We're still trying to earn that."
Virginia (52-9) enters this Super Regional even more imposing than 2010.
The Cavaliers are the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed, and their three starting pitchers — Danny Hultzen (11-3), Will Roberts (11-0) and Tyler Wilson (8-0) — were selected in this week's Major League draft, Hultzen No. 2 overall by the Seattle Mariners.
In three NCAA regional victories last week, Virginia outscored Navy, St. John's and East Carolina 29-3, and its pitchers struck out 42 and walked four, numbers as mind-bending as Anthony Weiner's lies.
But don't dare say "inevitable" or "invincible" to O'Connor. First, he'll cite the Oklahoma defeats. Then the fickle nature of baseball in general and, more specifically, the college version with its strangling scholarship limits — 11.7 grants barely fields a starting lineup.
Contrast that to football and men's basketball, sports in which the NCAA grant limit is 85 and 13, respectively.
Could perennial baseball powers such as UC Irvine, Coastal Carolina, Rice and Cal State Fullerton attain similar status in football or men's basketball? O'Connor asked, knowing full well the answer.
"You have to be very good this weekend, but also need to have some breaks go your way," he said.
Very good because UC Irvine (42-16) arrives with five draftees, including ace Matt Summers (11-2, 1.72 ERA), a fourth-round choice by the Minnesota Twins. Moreover, as stunning as O'Connor's Virginia tenure is — eight consecutive NCAA appearances for a previous doormat — he's unlikely to outmaneuver his Anteaters counterpart.
This marks Gillespie's fourth season at Irvine and the program's sixth consecutive NCAA tournament. The Anteaters reached the 2007 CWS and in 2009 were ranked No. 1 before losing twice to Virginia in the regional round — Hultzen pitched 7.1 innings in a 5-0 victory.
Mighty impressive for a program that was shuttered by state budget cuts from 1992-2001.
More impressive: A 2011 regular season in which Virginia did not lose a series until the final weekend, when North Carolina swept a three-game set in Chapel Hill.
No disgrace there. The Tar Heels are the No. 3 national seed and are hosting a Super Regional against Stanford.
O'Connor said the defeats "refocused" the Cavaliers and reminded them of how critical the "little details" are.
Apparently so. Virginia is 7-0 since, winning four in the ACC tournament, three in the NCAA.
"For whatever reason, it's worked," O'Connor said of his relaxed attitude with this team. "They never lost their confidence and haven't looked back since. You just don't want to change what the approach has been all year."