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In the winner-take-all finals, UVa hands the ball to its most successful veteran

OMAHA, Neb. -- Brandon Waddell has contributed more to Virginia's rapid rise on the national scene, pitched in more important spots and started more games than any pitcher before him at the school.

So what's one more moment, potentially the most important in the program's history?

The junior lefty from Houston gets that chance Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) against Vanderbilt in Game 3 of the College World Series finals after the Cavaliers won 3-0 Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Unexpected stars again stole the spotlight as Virginia evened the best-of-three series.

Adam Haseley, the Cavaliers' freshman leadoff hitter and regular center fielder, took the mound for his fifth start of the season and fired five shutout innings. Senior Thomas Woodruff, with 67 at-bats in his career and no postseason starts before Tuesday, filled the gap in the outfield and collected three hits, including a two-run single with two outs in Virginia's decisive three-run bottom of the sixth inning.

"I'm a big believer that to be in this position, to compete for a national championship," UVa coach Brian O'Connor said, "you need guys to rise to the occasion that maybe hadn't yet.

"Anything can happen. And it doesn't surprise me, because I know how hard these two individuals work."

And now, clear the stage for Waddell. He has started four games at the CWS over the past two seasons -- all Virginia wins, including a complete-game gem against these Commodores last season in Game 2 of the finals.

This year in Omaha, Waddell, a recent fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, hurled seven innings in a 1-0 win over powerful Florida, then lasted five innings Saturday against the Gators in an elimination game won 5-4 by the Cavaliers.

Before Saturday, he was the second pitcher in the past 25 years at the CWS to allow one run or fewer and pitch at least seven innings in three starts. Michael Roth of South Carolina did it four times from 2010 to 2012.

Waddell is simply the most accomplished postseason pitcher ever at a school in search of its first national championship -- and the ACC's first since 1955. Waddell's availability, though on short rest, restores order for Virginia at the most urgent time. A bumpy ride began in March and extended to the CWS, where the Cavs have relied on ace reliever Josh Sborz for 13 spotless innings and used a rookie who had never pitched in the postseason on Tuesday.

"We've had our ups and downs," Waddell said outside the Virginia locker room Tuesday as his teammates celebrated. "It was just finding that rhythm. We've come together. And those struggles brought us confidence that we can get through everything."

Virginia lost six starting position players and three key bullpen members from a year ago. It slid through April, posting an 8-11 mark as ace starter Nathan Kirby suffered a strained lat muscle.

Kirby returned on Friday against Florida, lasting only 2.2 innings. Without him, Virginia relied on sophomore Connor Jones, who has started twice in Omaha, and, of course, Waddell. But even Waddell slipped during that late-season slump. Virginia lost six of his seven starts from April 6 to May 22.

In the postseason, though, it has won all four. For his career in June, Waddell is 5-1 with a 2.32 ERA in 10 starts.

He's the right guy at the right time.

"We've got 27 outs to get," Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn said. "The stage is just bigger here with bigger lights, but it doesn't change our approach."

Waddell said his routine would remain as normal. He has spent nearly a full month in Nebraska over the past calendar year.

The Hilton Omaha, just beyond the right-field wall here, is his home away from home. Waddell will eat breakfast and spend time with his teammates Wednesday morning, go to lunch with his parents, Chuck and Terrie, and his sister, Samantha, relax in the afternoon and get ready to pitch.

"Just go out there and do your job," Waddell said of his mindset.

He'll match in the last game of his career against Vanderbilt right-hander Walker Buehler, a first-round pick of the Dodgers who beat TCU on Friday but struggled in three innings against Virginia last year in the opener of the championship series.

"There's no point in holding anything back," Waddell said. "Everyone is going to bring everything they've got, so it'll be fun to watch."

On Tuesday, Waddell said he sat back to admire the work of Haseley and Woodruff.

Of the freshman pitcher, Kuhn said he expected a solid showing. Haseley, despite his collegiate inexperience, has starred in international tournaments for Team USA. On Tuesday, he allowed four hits and struck out just one, but he kept the Commodores' potent lineup off the scoreboard.

"It's postseason time, and he's a big-time player," Kuhn said. "That's a helluva job by a freshman on a helluva stage against a helluva team. He's got ice water in his veins. He's not a very emotional kid. He's very professorial. We call him the reverend."

The emergence of Woodruff rated as even more unlikely. Before Tuesday, his career highlight involved scoring the winning runs last year at the CWS -- as a pinch-runner -- against TCU and Ole Miss. Woodruff had a four-hit game in April against James Madison to equal his Virginia total before this season.

"That kid deserves it more than anybody else," Waddell said. "For him to go out there and have the day that he had is unbelievable."

Come Wednesday, it's Waddell's turn to take the stage.