After a season strewed with many ups and downs so far, everything came together for the Virginia baseball team, as the Cavaliers downed Liberty 5-2 in a true team effort Wednesday night. With the win, Virginia improved to 26-15 (9-12 ACC) on the season, while Liberty fell to 25-16 (11-4 Big South).
The Cavaliers continued to ride their momentum and now have won five of their last six, despite two of those wins coming at high cost. Friday’s 5-4 victory saw junior pitcher Nathan Kirby exit with what was later diagnosed as a left latissimus dorsi strain, while freshman pitcher Derek Casey was removed in the third inning of Tuesday’s 14-4 win over Longwood with an unknown injury. Sophomore shortstop Daniel Pinero was also forced out of the game, after being struck in the face by a line drive.
With the Cavaliers’ victory over Liberty Wednesday, several players demonstrated their ability to step up and contribute to the team after injury strikes. Freshman pitcher Adam Hasely making his first career start on the mound, but the Windermere, Fla. native also helped his own cause at the plate.
After two quiet innings, Virginia pounced on the lead in the third, when freshman infielder Justin Novak got on base after being plunked. Novak moved over to third on a single by Hasely and then crossed home plate on a wild pitch to put Virginia on the board. After sophomore Matt Thaiss drew a walk, senior infielder Kenny Towns delivered a three-run monster blast above the clubhouse wall that put the Cavaliers up 4-0. Freshman outfielder Pavin Smith immediately followed through with his 11th double of the season, a scorcher that scraped off the top of the wall and missed a home run by inches, but was left stranded on second.
Hasely, in his first career start, silenced doubts of his ability as a starter by churning out four shutout innings, allowing only four singles without surrendering a walk, before turning the game over to freshman pitcher Tommy Doyle.
Virginia tried to gain some insurance in the bottom of the sixth frame. Sophomore catcher Robbie Coman led off with a single and moved to second on a groundout by senior infielder Thomas Woodruff. With two outs, freshman shortstop Novak laced a single to right field as Coman was waved around third on his way to home. Liberty right fielder Will Shepherd played the ball and fired it home, reaching senior catcher Becker Sankey who laid down the tag to end the inning.
Doyle cruised through two innings without allowing a baserunner before running into some trouble in the top of the seventh. Sophomore outfielder Andrew Yacyk tripled on a ball that looked to be carried heavily by the wind and eventually bounced of the right center wall, and Doyle walked the next batter on four pitches.
With Liberty posing its first serious threat,sophomore pitcher Alec Bettinger came in with no outs and, after a lengthy battle with senior Clay Keranen, induced a 4-6-3 double play and later induced a groundout to retire the side on 10 pitches. Yacyk would come into score on the double play to put Liberty on the board, but Bettinger severely limited the damage to douse the Flames’ rally.
Liberty threatened again in the eighth, leading off with a single by senior first baseman Alex Close. However, the righty Bettinger remained unfazed and again quelled the Flames by inducing an around-the-horn 5-4-3 double play, which proved especially important when Will Shepherd drove the ball over the right center fence to cut Virginia’s lead to two.
However, the Cavaliers came charging back in the bottom of the frame to add some breathing room. Freshman infielder Charlie Cody started Virginia’s bid for insurance by launching the ball off of the right center fence and cruising to second for a stand-up double. Woodruff followed through by driving the ball into the left center gap as Cody easily coasted into home to put the Cavaliers up 5-2.
Junior pitcher Josh Sborz, fresh off collecting two saves against Miami over the past weekend, then came on and immediately struck out the first batter. On a red-hot ground ball hit right back to the mound, Sborz reached across his body and snow-coned the ball, flipping to first for the second out. He then induced a ground out ball to shortstop , who threw to first to end the game and seal the 5-2 win for the Cavaliers. It was Sborz’s 12th save of the season, and his third in the last four games.
“We’re the underdogs now,” Sborz said. “Basically, we just gotta figure out a way to win.”
“Underdog” is a long way from what was expected of the Virginia team at the start of the season, who were often regarded as the favorites to win the ACC.
“No one’s really given up yet. The talent’s still there, the team’s still there, and we still have the ability to win,” Sborz said. “This past week, we really started to play well. We got Joe [McCarthy] back, offense is going good, defense is going good. We look good. Although we’ve lost two guys this weekend, we just gotta keep on going.”
Coach Brian O’Connor remarked how he expects several players to play a bigger role following injuries to several key players. After showing his potential as a starter, Hasely is expected to play a bigger role heading towards the conclusion of the season.
“Adam was a recruited as a dual player, he just hasn’t pitched much for us because of all the injuries to our position players, we haven’t had to use him on the mound. And now, that whole situation has kind of flipped,” O’Connor said. “Now, we’ll see him a lot more on the mound, and he’s got a fresh arm, so there’s a positive to it.”
Despite the series of injuries the team has faced, O’Connor dismissed the notion of using the injuries as any excuse for losses.
“I’ve told them that they have a choice to make,” O’Connor said. “You know, you can hang your head, you can pout and feel sorry for us and say ‘Well, it’s just not our year’ or ‘Poor old us,’ or you can look around at your teammates and understand that they have the ability, and you do as well, to rise up and play the best baseball, and still accomplish our goals.”
Despite its last two victories against Liberty and Longwood not contributing to the team’s ACC tournament hopes, the wins represent the team’s ability to win after encountering its fair share of adversity.
Now, the Cavaliers will return to conference play as they travel to Raleigh, NC to compete against North Carolina State.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday.