March 29, 2011

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Roberts Perfect for Top-Ranked Virginia

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder @collbaseball


For much of the past two weeks, Virginia has been a hotbed of college basketball with five teams reaching the NCAA tournament, two – the University of Richmond and VCU – reaching the Sweet 16 and the Rams making the Final Four.


For a night, college basketball took a back seat to college baseball.


Virginia junior right-hander Will Roberts, a native of Richmond, tossed the first perfect game in school history Tuesday, striking out 10 in a 2-0 shutout of George Washington at Davenport Field. Roberts needed 98 pitches to complete the first Division I perfect game since 2002 (Eric Brandon of Auburn vs. Murray State) and only the eighth nine-inning perfect game and 19th overall in D-I college baseball history.


“I think a couple of the guys were pulling them up in the clubhouse,” Roberts said of his place in history Tuesday night after celebrating with family and fellow pitchers at Littlejohn’s. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure in the morning when I wake up, I’ll feel a little bit different.”


Roberts, 5-0 with a 1.13 ERA, 41 strikeouts and three walks in 39.2 innings this year, improved to 12-0 in his Cavaliers career with his first complete game. His gem overshadowed another milestone – top-ranked Virginia’s 2,000th baseball win in school history.


“He was unbelievable,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said. “He had a good fastball with location all night long really. He was still throwing 88 to 91 mph in the eighth and ninth inning…he was really on.


“He’s pitched great all year. Tonight he pitched like he has been pitching, but he was a little better.”


Roberts said he primarily threw fastballs for the first few innings, mixing in an occasional slider. As the game wore on, he worked his slider and curve ball more.


“I didn’t throw a single changeup, which has usually been my best pitch in the past,” he said.


The Cavaliers (25-2) gave him all the support he needed in the fourth inning, when fellow Richmonder Reed Gragnani drove in a run on a fielder’s choice, and battery-mate Kenny Swab scored on a balk by Colonials reliever Kenny O’Brien.


Roberts, who yielded only one ball to the outfield all evening, began thinking something special might be in the works in the middle innings.


“Around the fifth inning, is this really happening?” he said. “In the seventh and eighth, you just have to think: what do I have to do to finish this out?”


Added Jeff Roberts, Will’s father: “About the sixth inning, I started thinking that he had a pretty good chance at it. Having seen him pitch so much over the years, I could just tell he had absolute command of the baseball.”


Working with Swab, Roberts got several nice plays from second baseman Keith Werman, including a couple tough slow rollers that O’Connor said Werman made look easy. In the eighth, Tyler McCarthy ripped a shot back up the middle that Roberts deflected with his shin and pounced on the ball to keep the perfect game intact.


“Keith Werman made a couple plays coming in on slow rollers that were close plays,” Roberts said. “Kenny Swab really hung in there with me. A couple times I went 3-0, and he really pulled me through.”


With two outs, Roberts got Ryan Thomas to bounce out to Werman at second for only the second perfect game in ACC history.


A few moments later, Roberts’ Cavaliers teammates hoisted him atop their shoulders and carried him off the field.


“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Roberts said. “I really didn’t know what was going to happen.”


Perfection does that.


(photo courtesy of Virginia Media Relations Office)