So far this year, not many people have been very impressed with the way the UVa baseball program has performed this year; myself included. There was so much skepticism entering their first ACC weekend against Virginia Tech that I am sure many prepared themselves for a series loss just in case; myself included. Most of those same people probably believed that the Cavaliers had enough talent to win games this year but had not put it all together yet this year and had underachieved a bit; myself included. What I was ready for happened Saturday and Sunday.
On Friday however, the collapse that took place was of epic proportions the likes of which I can not remember ever seeing in the program. The Hoos got a great start from Whit Mayberry that saw him throw 5.2 innings which included seven Ks, four walks, and seven hits but limited the Hokies to only three runs. Justin Thompson and Kyle Crockett did their job as well shutting out Tech through the 8th inning. That is when the wheels fell off.
Entering the 9th inning, the Hoos had a 7-3 lead and were limiting the Hokies to limited times on base. They had not scored since the 4th inning and looked as if the game was all but over. Unfortunately for many Cavalier fans, it was not. Branden Kline entered the game for his first appearance on the season as the team's closer. Kline proceeded to walk the first two guys he saw (major no-no) then give up a double to Tech's Chad Pinder. After two more walks, a wild pitch, and a single, the game was tied 7-7 and everyone (myself included) was in disbelief.
But that wasn't the end of it. After the Cavaliers went scoreless in the 9th inning, Kline re-entered and looked poised to escape a jam with two outs and a measly pop fly on its way to first year Mike Papi's glove. The ball hit his glove....it hit off his glove.....it hit the ground.....Tech scored. Remember the disbelief from the 9th inning? It showed its head again in the 10th. Fortunately for the Hoos, they were able to knot the score at 8, but in the 11th, the Hokies scored two more to take the lead 10-8 and secure the victory.
I was angry, I was embarrased, I was scared (for the lives of Branden Kline and others), and I was giving up. This Cavalier team had yet to show me anything big this year and I was beginning to think they might not have the fight the UVa program was supposed to have. I admit, it was wrong of me to lose a little faith in Coach O'Connor and Co after all they have proven of the years. Luckily, faith was restored Saturday and Sunday and I didn't hate myself so much anymore.
Scott Silverstein gave UVa yet another great start on Saturday. Silverstein allowed three runs on three hits while striking out nine over his six innings pitched. Shane Halley and Justin Thompson spread one VPISU hit over the last three innings to hold them scoreless and secure the Cavalier victory. Stephen Bruno, Nick Howard, Mitchell Shifflett, and Colin Harrington all had two hits in the game. Shifflett was the stud at the plate however supplying the Cavaliers with three of the four runs they needed to earn the victory. Mitchell had two RBIs to go with his two hits and scored a run. The eleven hits, four runs, and no errors were just what the Hoos needed after their loss on Friday.
Most expect sporting drama in March to be on the TV via the basketball court. If you've got a bad ticker, cholesterol, or you get worked up easily, I suggest you stop watching UVa
baseballsports. It's not good for your health. Sunday was no different. Finding themselves down 2-5 entering the 8th inning, the Hokies looked like they would escape with their first series victory at UVa in just about ever. Luckily, the boys found that spark I feared they had been missing and put it together in the 8th and 9th. In the 8th, first year Derek Fisher kicked it off with an RBI triple and Nate Irving followed suit with a single to score Fisher and cut the lead to 4-5. Chris Taylor lead off the ninth by getting hit with a pitch. Taylor got to second via a sacrifice from Reed Gragnani and then scored thanks to Stephen Bruno's single to tie the game. Mike Papi singled to move Bruno to third, a Jared King intentional walk loaded the bases, Derek Fisher grounded in to a fielder's choice, and set the stage for a Nate Irving chopping infield single to score the go ahead and game winning run.
After Friday I was worried this team wouldn't find itself. I think Friday might have embarrased them to the point where they didn't want to lose anymore. Hopefully they can use that fire the rest of the year and earn those hard fought victories everyone expects them to. The pitchers are giving excellent starts, the hitters are coming up with timely hitting, and the freshman are doing better than expected. The only thing left to do is limit the errors in the field and put it all together.
The boys take today off but will be back on the field hosting Marist Tuesday and Wednesday in a pair of non-conference games. Until then, fill out your brackets, get your hair cut (looking at you Mike Scott and Jontel Evans), and let your hand heal (I LOVE YOU JOE HARRIS!). Oh, and of course, Go HOOS!