Baseball hosts slumping Yale
O'Connor touts young bullpen, Papi before midweek series
In its trip to South Carolina to play Clemson this past weekend, the No. 13 Virginia baseball team faced its biggest challenge so far this season. After a weekend of close games, Virginia is hoping for an easier midweek matchup as it hosts Yale for a two-game series at Davenport Field.
The 2-1 series win against Clemson contained somewhat of an anomaly for the Cavaliers (17-2, 4-2 ACC). The previously impenetrable starting pitching staff showed some vulnerability against the Tigers, as both freshman Brandon Waddell and redshirt senior Scott Silverstein left their starts with Virginia trailing. The Cavaliers relied on strong relief performances from their young staff to keep their hopes of victory alive in the first two games.
“It’s really amazing when you look out there in the ballgame and you bring somebody out of the bullpen and it’s a freshman, and then you bring the next guy in and it’s a freshman, then another one,” head coach Brian O’Connor said. “They’re certainly going to get more and more opportunities, and hopefully as their opportunities start to stack up, they continue to be even more consistent than they have been thus far.“”
Junior Kyle Crockett had some of the weekend’s most important appearances, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings in Friday’s 6-5 extra innings win and 2.0 innings of one-run ball in Sunday’s 8-5 win. Crockett, who was limited early in the season by a back injury, has impressed in his appearances in recent games, giving up just one run in 12.1 innings of relief this year.
“He’s certainly had a lot of experience doing that in his career so far,” O’Connor said. “He’s got more experience than anybody on our staff coming into this season … it’s going to be really valuable for us moving forward.”
As Crockett stymied the Tiger batters late in the game Friday night, the Cavaliers were able to break through on two key hits from sophomore outfielder Mike Papi. After tying the game on an RBI single in the ninth, Papi homered to right field in the 11th to spur Virginia to the win.
After lingering back injuries forced him to miss most of the second half of last season, Papi has not been in the everyday lineup for the Cavaliers. With a crop of talented young players around him, Papi has started six of the team’s 19 games. He has made the most of the somewhat limited playing time, batting .357 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI in 28 at-bats.
“Coach has trust in me now, I believe, and I’m always ready whenever he calls my number,” Papi said. “Whenever I get my opportunity I’m going to try and go up there and help the team.”
Papi was rewarded for his Friday night heroics with a spot in the starting lineup both Saturday and Sunday, and O’Connor said he is looking to find more time for the sophomore to make an impact.
“Mike’s got talent – a lot like those guys who are playing every day – and I’ve got to find a way to get him in there some more,” O’Connor said. “I think he’s a very talented player that is waiting for his opportunity and certainly has made the most of it.”
Virginia may be able to experiment with some different lineups for two midweek games against Yale, as the lowly Bulldogs (1-7, 0-0 Ivy League) come into Charlottesville amid a slow start to the season. After getting swept by Army to open the season, Yale beat Bucknell before dropping four straight to Valparaiso, North Dakota State, Long Island and Navy all in Florida. The Bulldog pitching staff is currently sporting a 5.37 team ERA.
O’Connor is starting usual mid-week starter freshman Trey Oest Tuesday but will give freshman Josh Sborz his first collegiate start Wednesday. Sborz has seen consistent action out of the bullpen this season with a 1.69 ERA in 10.2 innings of work.
“Sborz is a very talented kid that we have a lot of confidence in, and we need to get him out there and get his pitch count up and get him some more experience,” O’Connor said. “… After playing Wednesday against Yale, we have two days off before we play again on Saturday, so it will be enough rest for Josh to help us out sometime during the weekend.”
First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. both Tuesday and Wednesday.