Baseball blasts Princeton 14-4 in make-up game
18-game streak of allowing three runs or fewer comes to end
Virginia junior second baseman Branden Cogswell led off the bottom of the first inning of the No. 5 Cavaliers’ Thursday afternoon game against Princeton with a groundball that rocketed off the lip of the infield grass for a surprise single. He accepted a free pass from junior right-hander Nick Donatiello to lead off the third. Two innings later, he squared up a second base hit — once more in Virginia’s first at-bat of the frame.
Cogswell kept setting the table, and his teammates kept hitting him home. The Preseason All-American, who entered the day hitting just .243 through the Cavaliers’ first 19 games, finished two for two with four runs scored and three stolen bases. Cogswell’s sparkplug day at the plate helped Virginia to its seventh straight win, a 14-4 decision on a sunny afternoon in Charlottesville.
“You know, Branden Cogswell had such a great year for us last year out of the gate,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I think about 30 games into the season last year, you know, he was hitting .400 for us, and he came out like gangbusters at the beginning of the season offensively. And, you know, he’s had a slow start, so maybe it’ll work the opposite [way]. He hasn’t lost confidence in himself.”
He was just part of the story for Virginia (17-3, 6-1 ACC), which hit the 20-game mark on the season just one win behind last year’s blistering 18-2 start. Junior two-way player Nick Howard, who manned first base for the second game in a row, was three for three with four RBIs. Junior first baseman Mike Papi, out in centerfield for the second straight day, finished two for three with three RBIs and three runs scored. And sophomore catcher Robbie Coman filled in admirably for junior Nate Irving, who took the day off.
Coman had a monster day at the dish — he tallied three hits in five at-bats while driving in four runs, three on a bases-clearing double in the Cavaliers’ five-run fifth inning — and also helped freshman right-hander Alec Bettinger get through a tricky beginning to pick up his first career win in his first career start. Coman raised his batting average to .346 on the year, and he said he was happy to come through for his team and fellow catchers.
“Whatever I can do to help this team is always what’s been the priority, and that’s what the coaches have preached,” Coman said. “I mean, I know the past two years [Irving] has caught almost every game, and I mean, I know that’s tough on your legs and so, if I can give him a break, catch a game and help us win, well, all the better power to it.”
Bettinger held Princeton (3-9) to a solitary run in the first inning despite yielding three consecutive hits to begin the game. He retired ten straight Tigers after the inauspicious beginning and ended up throwing four innings of two-run baseball. Bettinger said he enjoyed having the chance to start a ballgame.
“[Early in the year], we did a lot of work during the week, and [pitching coach Karl Kuhn] just kept on telling me, ‘Your time’s going to come. Your time’s going to come,’” Bettinger said. “And, eventually, it came around to me, and it was fun.”
The ball seemed to have eyes in the top of the first, as Princeton senior centerfielder Alec Keller doubled on a fly ball which landed just inside the leftfield line, sophomore shortstop Billy Arendt stroked a double off the inside of the first-base bag and sophomore second baseman Danny Hoy blooped a single just beyond Cogswell’s reach in short right field. Bettinger, though, prevented a big inning with two fly-ball outs sandwiched around a punch-out of freshman leftfielder Paul Tupper, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week.
As Bettinger got into a groove, the Cavaliers thrashed Tiger junior left-hander Tyler Foote, chasing him with one out in the second inning. Foote was charged with seven runs, all earned. Donatiello, who came out for the third inning after freshman weekend starter Keelan Smithers finished the second, did not fare much better. His final line: six runs, all earned, in two and a third innings.
Virginia did not schedule the game until Wednesday night around 8 p.m., though O’Connor had been in communication with the Princeton coaching staff about the possibility for a few days. The teams originally discussed playing at St. John’s College High School, the D.C. private school where Howard played high school ball.
“With the snow, the weather like it’s been, it’s been hectic,” Bettinger said. “We were getting emails, texts saying we have practice, we have a game. It’s just been crazy.”
The Cavaliers’ streak of 18 games allowing three runs or fewer came to the narrowest of ends, but Coman said the fact the team has had such a run is a testament to the Cavaliers’ “pitching and defense.” Bettinger, for his part, sees talent up and down the Virginia pitching staff.
“We have great starters,” Bettinger said. “We have Nick Howard coming out of the pen at the end and, just, it’s great to learn from these guys. Like White Mayberry — just go out there and watch him with [the] bases loaded and no outs and get out of it. It’s just amazing.”
Virginia will drive down to Miami Friday afternoon for a three-game series against the Hurricanes. The games will be both begin at 7 p.m.