• It's their time. The Cavaliers have climbed the ladder methodically in 11 years under coach Brian O'Connor, a native of the Omaha area and Creighton grad who played in this event in 1991. Virginia lost in NCAA regionals every year from 2004 to 2008, then advanced to the College World Series in 2009 and 2011. This is O'Connor's first shot to play for the crown, and his team has handled the pressures of Omaha like a group coached by a CWS veteran.
• They're the best team. Any questions? The Cavaliers started the year as a popular choice to win it all, and they've experienced few dips. Virginia only once lost consecutive games. It has power that demands respect with first baseman Mike Papi and outfielders Joe McCarthy and Brandon Downes. It has first-round talent in Howard, Papi and left fielder Derek Fisher. And it has plenty of pitching, led by Kirby and fellow lefty Brandon Waddell, likely to start on Tuesday.
How they got here: The Commodores beat Louisville 5-3 on opening night and topped UC Irvine 6-4 behind 5 1/3 hitless innings of relief by Walker Buehler. Then came Texas. The Longhorns silenced Vanderbilt 4-0 on Friday afternoon, setting the stage for Saturday night. The game was tied after the sixth inning until there were two outs in the bottom of the 10th. At that point, Wiseman singled, Ro Coleman drew a walk, Karl Ellison was hit by a pitch and Campbell pounded a 1-1 offering into the ground toward UT shortstop C.J. Hinojosa. Campbell beat the throw by a step to ignite a celebration in right field.
Key player: Freshman left fielder Bryan Reynolds continues to shine in Omaha. He's made an array of impressive catches and collected six hits in four games for the Commodores. Reynolds, batting second, helps pace the Vandy offense with leadoff man Dansby Swanson. Reynolds has hit safely in 17 of the past 18 games, hitting .431 (31-for-72) over that time. He leads the Commodores in hitting at .341 and with 53 RBIs.
Wild card: Buehler, the sophomore right-hander, might be just the man to match Kirby on Monday. After Buehler's performance against UC Irvine, he won't lack confidence. He's 2-0 in the postseason and leads the Commodores with 12 wins this year. Buehler started 15 games in 18 appearances. He's fanned 109 in 99 1/3 innings, and he'll have had a full week of rest by Monday night.
Three reasons Vanderbilt will win:
• It creates havoc on the basepaths. The 10th-inning rally against Texas was no fluke. The Commodores apply constant pressure. They stole four more bases on Saturday to reach 12 in four CWS games. Virginia has controlled the running game all year, erasing 21 of 43 steal attempts, including 3 of 5 in Omaha. But Vanderbilt offers a new kind of challenge, with six regulars -- not including Turner -- who have stolen more than 10 bases this season.
• Pitching depth and more depth. Who needs pitching depth in Omaha, where the off days are plentiful? Teams that expect to win championships need it. Vandy, despite using Fulmer for 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, enters the championship series in good shape on the mound. Consider that Hayden Stone, who fired 5 2/3 innings of solid relief on Saturday, worked just 1 1/3 innings in Vandy's first three games. Talented arms Tyler Ferguson and Tyler Beede are ready. Adam Ravanelle hasn't pitched since the opening game. Even Fulmer could likely return if a third game is needed on Wednesday.
• It plays in the Southeastern Conference. In search of its first NCAA crown in any men's sport, Vanderbilt is the sixth SEC school to play for the baseball title in the past seven years. The league won three straight before Arizona beat South Carolina in 2012, and Mississippi State fell to UCLA last year. That's no downturn, especially when stacked against the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia is attempting to win the first national title by ACC school since Wake Forest in 1955.