Fighting for their playoff lives, No. 21 Virginia baseball won a crucial home series against ninth-ranked Miami. Seemingly playing with a new edge, the Cavaliers (24-15, 9-12 ACC) answered the call in big situations throughout the weekend.
Virginia took control of the series by taking the first game, 5-4.
“That was, I think, the best team win that we’ve had all season,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “It was a total team effort.”
Virginia desperately needed production from its bullpen in the series opener. Junior starter Nathan Kirby left after only three innings with a strained left lat muscle, which derailed what was shaping up to be a fine performance from Kirby — he had allowed no runs, two hits and one walk while striking out two.
In stepped junior David Rosenberger. The left-handed reliever worked 2.2 innings and allowed one run on four hits. His gritty performance earned him the win, his first of the year.
“I wasn’t ready for it, sure, but I don’t think it effected anything,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger’s teammates scored runs in innings three, four and five to build a 4-1 advantage.
In the third, freshman center fielder Adam Haseley drew a one-out walk and came home on a hard-hit double into left-center by sophomore shortstop Daniel Pinero.
An inning later, junior right fielder Joe McCarthy reached on a leadoff single and scored on a two-out, two-strike single by junior Kevin Doherty.
Junior catcher Robbie Coman provided the offense in the fifth inning. He doubled down the left-field line to score two.
Coman is as locked in as humanly possible at the plate. He would eventually go 7-12 in three games against the Hurricanes (30-11, 15-6 ACC) and has 10 hits in his last 12 at-bats.
“Sometimes it takes a little while to get back into the swing of things,” Coman said of his early-season injury. “It’s good to get some hits, get some confidence back and feel comfortable up there.”
Miami scored two runs off sophomore Alec Bettinger in the top of the seventh to pull within one, which prompted O’Connor to call on junior Josh Sborz for the seven-out save. Sborz escaped that jam, worked around a walk in the eighth and surrendered one unearned run in the ninth to close out the victory.
The Cavaliers mounted a four-run eighth-inning rally to clinch the series Saturday, 5-2.
Sophomore starter Connor Jones came out dealing. His stuff was electric — he struck out the side in the first, and he would not look back from there. The Chesapeake, Virginia native matched his career-high 7.2 innings and set a new personal best with 11 strikeouts. He allowed two runs, one earned, on six hits and two walks.
“I was trying to be aggressive,” Jones said. “I thought I got in a really good rhythm and flow there and tried to attack guys. I told people I was going to go out there guns a-blazing.”
Jones’ 118 pitches saved an already taxed Virginia bullpen.
“I didn’t talk to him about what he needed to do in this game,” O’Connor said. “Connor is a bright kid… He knows he’s going to have to pitch deep into this game.”
Hurricanes junior lefty Andrew Suarez matched Jones pitch-for-pitch early on. He attacked the zone and allowed only one unearned run through 5.2 innings while striking out five. In fact, Jones left the game in line for the loss.
That all changed in the eighth inning. The Cavaliers sent 10 men to the plate and scored four runs against sophomore closer Bryan Garcia, who did not retire any of the five batters he faced.
Once again, Coman was right there in the action. He started the inning by smacking a double into left and later scored when freshman Jack Gerstenmaier was beaned with the bases loaded. The next batter, Haseley, blew it open with a huge two-RBI single, which put Virginia ahead for good.
A day removed from his seven-out performance, Sborz pitched a perfect ninth inning to record the save.
Doherty, who entered in relief of Jones in the eighth, picked up his second win of the year.
Sunday’s finale was yet another frustrating outing for junior Brandon Waddell. Waddell, a 2015 preseason second-team All-American, Waddell could not get out of the fourth inning and was tagged for eight runs, seven earned, on seven hits and five walks.
“To go out there and perform like that, it’s like you’re letting everyone else down,” Waddell said. “To be honest, there’s not much worse of a feeling, but games like these, you’ve got to learn from them. They show you a lot. There are a lot of lessons in them.”
Sunday’s battering handed Waddell his fourth loss of the year and inflated his ERA to 5.18.
“All those things you got away with before come back to get you,” Waddell said.
Virginia’s offense was able to score five runs in the second inning off junior starter Enrique Sosa to grab an early 5-4 lead. The Cavaliers batted around in the inning, and the first four batters reached. Pinero singled home both Cody and Gerstenmaier.
But the Cavaliers would not keep the lead for long. Miami spread four runs across the next two frames to pull ahead, 8-5.
Following the early offensive barrage both teams’ bullpens settled the game down. Both freshman Tommy Doyle and Doherty threw 2.1 innings of scoreless ball, and Bettinger recorded the final two outs.
For the Hurricanes, four relievers combined for 3.4 innings of one-run ball. Garcia atoned for his blown save in the previous game by setting down Virginia in order in the ninth inning to seal the 8-6 victory.
The Cavaliers now look ahead to two midweek games with Longwood and Liberty before traveling to NC State over the weekend. Virginia’s pitching staff remains in a state of flux until more becomes known about the status of Kirby.