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NCAA BASEBALL: Pitching carries Cavaliers
CHARLOTTESVILLE—A potent lineup has received most of the credit as the University of Virginia baseball team has racked up the fourth-most victories in the program’s history.
All nine of Virginia’s starters have batted at least .279. Six have a batting average of .300 or better.
But in the Cavaliers’ 2–1 victory over Army in the first round of NCAA regional play Friday at Davenport Field, Virginia’s pitching staff stepped to the forefront.
Freshman starter Brandon Waddell and junior reliever Kyle Crockett combined to allow just five hits and strike out 12 Black Knights in a nail-biter win that sets the Cavaliers (48–10) up to host Elon (a 10–7 winner over UNC-Wilmington) tonight at 6 p.m.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said while his pitching staff isn’t consistently dominant, it has been a big part of the team’s success.
“To win 48 of the 58 games you’ve played,” O’Connor said, “you must have pretty good pitching.”
Virginia needed Waddell and Crockett to shut down the Black Knights (28–22) because its normally consistent lineup of hitters didn’t produce as expected.
Virginia managed nine hits off Army ace Chris Rowley, but it left 11 runners on base.
The Cavaliers scored both of their runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but even that frame was a disappointment for O’Connor. Virginia loaded the bases with no outs.
However, Rowley escaped the jam with just two runs allowed. He mustered two straight strikeouts and Jacob Page made an over-the-shoulder catch in center field on Reed Gragnani’s fly ball to end the inning.
“He had three strikeouts and two came with the bases loaded,” Army coach Joe Sottolano said of Rowley. “That’s pitching. You pitch for contact outs. You don’t pitch for strikeouts. But you hope they’re there for you when needed.”
Army took a 1–0 lead in the top of the fifth inning on Grant Van Orden’s squeeze bunt that scored Page from third base.
But the lead didn’t last long as five straight Virginia batters reached base in the bottom of the inning.
Third baseman Kenny Towns led off with a double. Catcher Nate Irving followed with a single and leadoff hitter Mike Papi added an RBI single, scoring Towns.
Jared King drew a walk from Rowley and Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year Joe McCarthy, who went 3-for-3 at the plate, delivered an RBI single to give Virginia a lead that held up the rest of the game.
McCarthy was the only Cavalier at the top of their order who seemed to figure out Rowley.
“He’s a guy that’s going to attack the zone,” McCarthy said. “You have to be ready for him.”
After Virginia took the lead, the Black Knights didn’t seriously threaten again. But O’Connor said in a one-run game many of his players were “anxious” and “pressing a little bit.”
Waddell and Crockett remained in control. Waddell allowed three hits and struck out eight batters in seven innings. It was a bounce-back performance from an ACC tournament loss to Virginia Tech in which he allowed 10 hits and six runs (two earned) in four innings of work.
“I just put it completely behind me,” Waddell said of that game.
Crockett was overpowering. Sottolano said he has respect for Crockett after the Black Knights faced him in a 9–1 loss in the same round last year.
Still, after Crockett struck out the final three batters to end the game Sottolano was perturbed.
“That bothered me,” he said. “I thought we should’ve been more competitive there.”
Virginia senior left-hander Scott Silverstein will be the starting pitcher for the Cavaliers tonight. O’Connor said after a stressful victory Friday, he hopes his team will relax going forward.
“We learned that you have to make the clutch pitches and the clutch plays,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully everybody has that feeling of the first win out of the way and [tonight] we can play good, aggressive baseball like we have all year.”
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