Cavaliers stay perfect
At some point this past weekend, coach Brian O’Connor asserted the seemingly invincible No. 19 Virginia pitching staff would need some help from the offense. In a four-game home stand it was the overpowering Cavalier offense that propelled the team through the weekend, sweeping two games each against Harvard and Bucknell to remain undefeated on the season.
Friday, the Cavaliers (12-0) turned to freshman phenom Brandon Waddell for his third start of the season, and the lefty performed as remarkably he has all season, throwing six shutout innings against Harvard (1-3). Waddell added seven more strikeouts to tally 27 for the season, good for third in the ACC. The freshman said he is not the prototypical “strikeout pitcher,” as much of his success comes from off-speed pitches. This, nonetheless, has not stopped him from flustering batters all year.
“I’m not going to blow past you,” Waddell said. “I’m not going to surprise you with a huge heater. I’m really there just trying to get contact that’s not good. My mentality isn’t to go out there and get a bunch of strikeouts in a game, it’s to go out there and get bad contact — to get it to where our guys can make routine plays behind me.”
Waddell’s performance was certainly welcome, as Friday proved to be a rare weak day offensively for the Cavaliers. Sophomore shortstop Branden Cogswell scored a run in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly to give the team the lead, and Virginia picked up two more insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth to lead 3-0. That was all the offensive support the pitching staff would need though, as sophomore Austin Young and freshman Josh Sborz combined to complete the shutout in relief.
Virginia followed up Friday with a double-header Saturday that gave O’Connor the opportunity to mix up both his pitching staff and lineup. The Cavaliers jumped out to an early lead, capitalizing on walks dealt by Bucknell (1-9) junior starter Dan Weigel to go up 5-0. The Bison powered their way back, though, picking up 4 runs off redshirt senior Scott Silverstein in the third and fourth innings to bring the game to 6-4. The runs given up by Silverstein snapped a 42.2 inning shutout streak by the Virginia starting pitching staff, but Silverstein recovered to throw seven innings in the game. The Cavalier offense picked up again in later in the game, scoring six more runs throughout the final three innings to take a 12-4 victory.
“I thought that was big for us,” O’Connor said of Silverstein’s performance. “When you’re playing a double header, and you’re playing four nine-inning ballgames in a matter of three days, it’s important for him to eat up the middle of the game like he did and give us seven strong innings.”
In Saturday’s second game, O’Connor picked freshman Nathan Kirby to counter Harvard. The hard-throwing lefty came into the season as the reigning Virginia high school Player of the Year according to both Gatorade and ESPN, but had struggled in earlier appearances to find consistency. Against the Crimson, he gave up two runs in the top of the first inning, partially due to two errors from the Virginia defense. He struggled to find the zone, walking three batters in just 2.2 innings of work and was relieved by junior Whit Mayberry with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning. Mayberry escaped the jam to hold the Crimson offense at bay.
“He gave up two runs in the first inning, and they had one hit,” O’Connor said. “That’s where those walks come back to haunt you… You have to make your own luck, and he has to stay away from the walks. Harvard had a great approach against him. I just thought… it was time to give the ball to Whit, and there he was again, certainly doing the job for this club.”
The Virginia offense quickly made up for Kirby’s early struggles when sophomore outfielder Mike Papi tied the game with a three-run home run down the right field line in the second inning. Virginia then exploded for seven more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, highlighted by a screaming home run from freshman outfielder Joe McCarthy to right field. The Cavaliers tacked on one more run in the seventh to complete the 11-5 win.
“This lineup is incredible,” sophomore left fielder Derek Fisher said. “We are solid one through nine. Everybody can handle a bat, everybody can drive in runs — the best lineup I’ve played in, for sure.”
Sunday saw a rematch with Bucknell and a strong pitching performance from sophomore Nick Howard. The righty gave up a run in the top of the first inning, but it turned out to be the only one he allowed all day, as he struck out 11 batters in six innings of play. The offense picked up where it had left off the day before, plating four runs in the bottom of the second off triples from Papi and Cogswell. Junior Kyle Crockett was strong again in relief, striking out four batters in two innings, and freshman pitcher Kevin Doherty closed out the game for a 9-1 win against the Bison.
“Overall, in the four games, I was very happy with the way our guys played,” O’Connor said. “I thought we pitched really well, played pretty good defense, obviously swung the bats well this weekend, and really have some positive momentum going here as we lead into next weekend starting conference play having Maryland here.”