OMAHA, Neb. — Virginia’s Kenny Towns thrives on the pressure this time of year. So he was right where he wanted to be in a tie game late in the opener of the College World Series.
Towns delivered a tiebreaking eighth-inning double after Daniel Pinero stole second and third base, and the Cavaliers defeated Arkansas 5-3 on Saturday.
Boxscore: Virginia 5, Arkansas 3
“I feel comfortable in the postseason with games on the line. The past couple years I’ve been here and I’ve gotten used to it,” said Towns, whose 22 RBIs in 26 career NCAA tournament games are a school record. “You want to rise up for your team and give them a better chance to win. I’ve been able to get the opportunity and succeed sometimes.”
The Cavaliers (40-22), the 2014 national runners-up, advanced to a Monday game against Florida (47-19). The Razorbacks (40-24) will meet Miami (49-16) on Monday in an elimination game.
Virginia took a gutsy offensive approach, matching its career high with five stolen bases on eight attempts, and Connor Jones turned in a solid six-inning start despite struggling with his command.
The Cavaliers, a No. 3 regional seed and the lowest to make it to Omaha, have won all six of their games in the national tournament. They’ve scored 27 of their 37 tournament runs in the sixth inning or later.
“That ballgame is kind of how we played the last couple weeks,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “Connor Jones certainly didn’t have his best stuff, but he grinded. Our plan coming into this World Series was to be very aggressive and take the fight to the other team, and we did that from an offensive standpoint.”
Josh Sborz (5-2), who started two CWS games last year and is now the Cavaliers’ closer, struck out five of 10 batters in three innings.
Arkansas tied it at 3 in the fifth on Andrew Benintendi’s nation-leading 20th home run. That was the second homer of the game at TD Ameritrade Park, which surrendered only three each of the past two years in the CWS. Virginia’s Joe McCarthy had opened the scoring with a drive into the right-field seats in the second.
The Hogs got a strong outing from Trey Killian (3-5), a ninth-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies who left with one out in the eighth after Pinero singled for his third hit. Zack Jackson came on, and Pinero stole second and third on back-to-back pitches.
Towns, a 20th-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels, fell behind 1-2 against Jackson, but worked the count full before driving the ball into right field to score Pinero. The run was charged to Killian, who worked 7.1 innings, allowing four runs while striking out six.
“Having Kenny out there in a tight ballgame, end of a game, I have total confidence in him getting the big hit,” Pinero said. “I knew he would get the big hit and he did.”
Pinero, who arrived in Omaha with six steals for the season, had three against the Hogs. That was the most by a player in the CWS since 2004.
Ernie Clement added an RBI single in the ninth, and Virginia scored all five of its runs with two outs.
Arkansas’ leadoff batter reached base in six innings, including the first four. But Virginia turned three double plays.
“We didn’t get a bunt down, and a lot of times when you don’t get a bunt down, you hit into a double play,” Hogs coach Dave Van Horn said. “Give Virginia credit. Their pitchers got out of some good jams. We had too many runners left on.”
NCAA College World Series
At TD Ameritrade Park Omaha
All Times CDT; TV: ESPN
Saturday, June 13
• Game 1: Virginia 5, Arkansas 3
• Game 2: Florida 15, Miami 3
Sunday, June 14
• Game 3: TCU (51-13) vs. LSU (53-10), 2 p.m.
• Game 4: Cal State Fullerton (39-23) vs. Vanderbilt (47-19), 7 p.m.
Monday, June 15
• Game 5: Arkansas (40-24) vs. Miami (49-16), 2 p.m.
• Game 6: Virginia (38-22) vs. Florida (47-19), 7 p.m.
Tuesday, June 16
• Game 7: G3 loser vs. G4 loser, 2 p.m.
• Game 8: G3 winner vs. G4 winner, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, June 17
• Game 9: G5 winner vs. G6 loser, 7 p.m.
Thursday, June 18
• Game 10: G7 winner vs. G8 loser, 7 p.m.
Friday, June 19
• Game 11: G6 winner vs. G9 winner, 2 p.m.
• Game 12: G8 winner vs. G10 winner, 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 20
• x-Game 13: If G9 winner also wins G11, TBD
• x-Game 14: If G10 winner also wins G12, TBD
• Monday, June 22: Teams TBD, 7 p.m.
• Tuesday, June 23: Teams TBD, 7 p.m.
• x-Wednesday, June 24: Teams TBD, 7 p.m.