Virginia got Thursday night exactly what it has come to expect when Tyler Wilson steps on the mound.
The senior right-hander pitched into the eighth inning of a win-or-go-home game against California at the College World Series. When it was over, the Cavaliers owned an 8-1 win that keeps them in Omaha for at least another day.
Wilson limited the Golden Bears to five hits and a run in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked none in improving to 10-0. More important, he set the tone from the start for a Virginia team needing a pick-me-up after a woeful performance in Tuesday's Bracket Two loss to South Carolina.
“I approached this game the same way I've approached every one of my starts all season long,'' Wilson said. “Sure, when you get between the lines, it's a little bit different given the circumstances of where we are.
“But I had the same mindset today as I've had all year, to go out and try to turn the lineup over and give our offense as much of an opportunity to put some runs on the board as possible.''
For the fourth time this season, Wilson followed a Virginia loss with a victory. And he did it Thursday in front of a record crowd of 25,833 at TD Ameritrade Park with a season on the line.
“This guy is as good a leader as I've ever seen,'' Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. “Not only does he perform on the field and is talented but he just does things the right way.
“The fact that he decided to come back for his senior year and the conversion that he made from being a relief pitcher to a starting pitcher, he's just your perfect teammate. The guy's a warrior out there.''
Against California, Wilson never allowed a runner to get past second base in the first seven innings. After the Golden Bears got their second hit of the game with two outs in the second, Wilson retired 11 straight before giving up another.
By then, Virginia had stretched the 2-0 lead it took in the third inning to 6-0 by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth inning. The final three came after two were out to all but take California out of the game.
“At 3-0, it's still a game,'' California coach David Esquer said. “It got away from us a little bit in that inning. I thought it was a very manageable game that had we done some things, we could be sitting in the seventh with a 2-0 or 3-0 game.
“We've been in that spot before and maybe score a run, put some pressure on to get some base runners late. But that didn't happen.''
Wilson saw to it that it didn't. He was bulldog tough from start to when O'Connor visited the mound with two outs in the eighth with California runners at first and third.
“His pitch count wasn't that high — he ended up throwing 94 pitches,'' O'Connor said when asked if he considered giving Wilson a chance to get out of the inning. “But he looked like he was starting to tire a little bit. He did throw a couple of innings on Sunday, and he had done his job.
“I just felt it was the right thing to bring Cody in at the time.''
Reliever Cody Winiarski gave up an infield single to Tony Renda that brought home California's only run, then ended the threat by getting Chadd Krist to fly out. Winiarski finished off the Golden Bears' 38-23 season by pitching around a lead-off walk in the ninth.
Wilson had thrown 2 1/3 innings of relief in Sunday's 4-1 win over California, and Esquer had hoped having a chance to see the Virginia pitcher in that outing might benefit his team on Thursday.
It didn't as Wilson had surgical command of his fastball and slider which resulted in getting 13 outs either on fly balls or pop-ups.
“He kept us off balance to the point where we were popping up a lot of balls, which is pretty uncharacteristic of our team,'' Renda said. “A guy like him, you have to take advantage of his mistakes and he didn't make too many tonight.
“He was definitely on his stuff and he made it tricky for us.''
Wilson's teammates provided him with a lead to protect by scoring twice in the third off California starter Dixon Anderson. He set up the inning by throwing wildly to first on Keith Werman's sacrifice following Jared King's lead-off single.
King eventually scored on a wild pitch and Werman came home on John Barr's sacrifice fly.
The Cavaliers made it 6-0 in the sixth, getting their first run when Kenny Swab singled and circled the bases when the ball got past center fielder Darrel Matthews. Werman, Chris Taylor and Barr then supplied two-out hits that brought in the final three runs.
“That was huge,'' Wilson said. “It wasn't only the number of runs that we put up but it allowed us to get control of the momentum of the game. Our guys had some quality at-bats in the inning to extend that lead.''
Two unearned runs in the ninth finished off the Virginia win that improved the Cavaliers to 56-11 and advanced them into Friday's 6 p.m. Bracket Two championship game against the defending champion Gamecocks.
South Carolina dominated the first meeting, posting a 7-1 victory that guarantees the Gamecocks two chances to pick up the one win that would move them on to next week's best-of-three championship series. A Virginia win Friday would force a third meeting Saturday.
“South Carolina's got a very good ball club,'' O'Connor said. “So do we. Tomorrow's game has nothing to do with the previous game that we played. There's no question we're going to have to play a really good ballgame.
“But so will they.''
California played well enough to get to Omaha in a season filled with great turmoil that included having the program set for elimination until supporters raised $9 million to save it. The Golden Bears pulled off a miracle rally in the last game of the regional to beat Baylor 9-8, then swept its super regional.
California sandwiched its first in Omaha in 31 years in between the losses to Virginia.
“I got a chance to go to Omaha with a very special team in a really crazy year,'' Esquer said. “I think our program and our players proved a lot to themselves that they will take with them the rest of their lives.''