Baseball sweeps three game series against Hokies

No. 2 Cavaliers improve to 23-4, 10-2 in conference

Friday night under the lights at Davenport Field, Virginia junior closer Nick Howard stood on the mound, his Cavaliers up one run against Virginia Tech with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Hokie freshman shortstop Ricky Surum lurked on third base, fresh off tripling to the warning track in left field, and sophomore pinch hitter Andrew Mogg dug in at the dish.

Howard quickly fell behind Mogg 2-0, prompting junior catcher Nate Irving to leave his station behind the plate for a conference with his pitcher. Back in action, Howard ran the count full and, with the fans up from their seats, got Mogg to swing through a low-80s change-up. Howard flexed his arms and screamed.

“You know, [Howard’s] worn our uniform for three years, and he’s got a lot of poise,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “He’s been in that situation a lot, and, you know, he doesn’t panic.”

Howard sealed Virginia’s 2-1 series-opening win and gave a repeat performance in Sunday’s finale, when he got Hokie junior catcher Mark Zagunis to ground out to junior Branden Cogswell at shortstop for the final out in a 7-4 decision. The No. 2 Cavaliers (23-4, 10-2 ACC) swept the Hokies (12-12, 5-7 ACC) after dropping both games of a doubleheader in Blacksburg last April 27-28, solidifying their place atop the conference’s Coastal division in the process.

Zagunis wielded a bright yellow, big-barreled war-hammer at the plate, and he did not don batting gloves until the weather turned chilly Sunday, but Virginia sophomore outfielder Joe McCarthy was the one who truly raked at the plate. McCarthy racked up seven RBIs in the series, doubling, tripling and homering during the course of the weekend.

“Joe’s really calm in the box, so it allows him to see the ball better, and he’s got a good batter’s eye and fights with two strikes, so, it makes him a good hitter,” said junior left fielder Mike Papi, who finished the series with six hits and three RBIs.

Hokie ace Brad Markey baffled Virginia for the better part of Friday’s opener. The senior right-hander threw curveball after curveball, and he put up zeroes through six innings. Virginia Tech parlayed a freshman outfielder Tom Stoffel single and an Irving throwing error into a third-inning run against sophomore left-hander Nathan Kirby for an early 1-0 lead.

The Hokies loaded the bases against Irving in the top of the sixth, but the James River High School product induced an inning-ending double-play ball from junior two-way player Sean Keselica, with Cogswell fielding the grounder at second and freshman shortstop Daniel Pinero relaying the ball to Howard at first. Irving had failed to block one of Kirby’s pitches earlier in the frame.

“You know, that situation was kind of created by me not keeping the ball in front of me,” Irving said. “And Nathan’s done a great job of really bearing down when he needs to and picking his teammates up, and that’s what we’re all about. If someone makes a mistake, we’re going to be there to pick him up no matter who it is.”

The next inning, the Cavaliers finally broke through against Markey, who threw 101 pitches in all. Papi sent the right-hander’s first pitch of the inning into the right-center gap for a double, and McCarthy and Irving each had a run-scoring base knock.

Sophomore right-hander Josh Sborz labored in his four-inning start Saturday, but freshman right-hander Connor Jones was sharp from the get-go after replacing sophomore left-hander David Rosenberger with the bases juiced and one out in the fifth. Jones struck out junior left fielder Kyle Wernicki and Surum, both swinging at sliders, to keep Virginia Tech off the scoreboard.

“Thankfully, Connor Jones was really, really on today, and you can see, watching that kid pitch, how extremely talented he is,” O’Connor said. “He’s done the job for us all year long, and it’s a great weapon to have, you know, if your starter doesn’t go out there and pitch you deep into the game, you got a guy like that that can go extended that’s got really, really good stuff.”

The Virginia coaching staff encouraged the Cavaliers to get after the Hokies’ pitchers earlier in the count in their second round of at-bats, and McCarthy and junior third baseman Kenny Towns obliged. McCarthy destroyed sophomore Phil Sciretta’s first pitch of the sixth inning, sending it into the right field bleachers for his second long-ball of the year.

“I tell you, Joe McCarthy’s home run, I have never seen anything like that,” O’Connor said. “If you had the vantage point that I did, that ball was hit on the foul line, and I’ve never seen — the ball went this way 25 feet back into play. I don’t know how he hit that thing. Honestly, it was like it jumped in midair and went the other direction. You know, it was really amazing.”

Towns doubled to deep left on the Sciretta’s first offering of the sixth, and Jones shut down the Hokies for the final four and two-thirds innings of the 9-2 victory.

Virginia led 3-2 through six innings Sunday, but in the seventh, the rain intensified and the game took rapid turns. Junior centerfielder Brandon Downes dove to catch Wernicki’s liner on sophomore left-hander Brandon Waddell’s 80th pitch of the afternoon, but with two outs, junior second baseman Alex Perez lined a single to center off redshirt senior reliever Whit Mayberry. The ball skipped off the wet grass and through Downes’ legs, allowing two Hokies to score.

Virginia came back for four runs in the bottom of the inning, scoring two on back-to-back hit-by-pitches from freshman right-hander Luke Scherzer with the bases loaded. The Cavaliers batted around in the frame and held on from there.

Virginia plays Old Dominion and George Washington this Tuesday and Wednesday at home. Both games start at 5 p.m.

Published March 30, 2014 in Sports

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