June 1, 2014

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Virginia Super Again

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – If you didn’t know any better, watching and listening to Virginia coach Brian O’Connor after Sunday’s 9-2 win over Arkansas that clinched the Charlottesville Regional, you might get the impression this was the Cavaliers’ first trip to the Super Regionals.


“In sports, when you accomplish great things, you need to enjoy it,” O’Connor said, beaming throughout his portion of the postgame press conference.


Virginia – again – has accomplished great things. That pure joy from O’Connor, however, seemed more a coach reveling in the fact that his team is headed to the Super Regionals for the fifth time in six years. It seemed more like a coach whose team continues to meet exceedingly lofty expectations, including a preseason No. 1 ranking from Baseball America and Perfect Game, even as other national heavyweights bow out of the NCAA Tournament.


“I’m proud,” O’Connor said. “Number one, I’m just really proud of this club. This team comes in and has enormous expectations, and they have managed it really well all year long.”


After praising the consistency of the players who have come through the program and longtime assistants Kevin McMullan and Karl Kuhn, who have been with O’Connor every step of his 11-year joyride in Charlottesville, O’Connor said again, “I’m really, really proud.”


Brandon Waddell (8-3) kept Arkansas (45-20) off balance for most of his 6.2 innings, and Derek Fisher drove in two of his four runs in a six-run third inning that all but cemented another Regional title for the Cavaliers (47-13).


Arkansas starter freshman Zach Jackson (2-3) was making his second start of the season and cruised through the first two innings before running into big-time trouble in the third.


John La Prise (3 for 5) singled, and Brandon Downes was hit by a pitch to open the frame. After an infield grounder from Nate Irving advanced both runners, Brandon Cogswell walked to load the bases. Jackson got a foul out but the third out proved evasive.


Mike Papi took a borderline 3-2 pitch for a ball to force in the game’s first run.


“We’re one pitch from getting out of that jam,” Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was probably a ball or two off [the plate].”


Joe McCarthy then hit a hard grounder to third baseman Clark Eagan, who couldn’t handle it, and the Cavaliers led 2-0. Fisher followed with a two-run single to left. A third chance at the third out came and went when Michael Bernal booted a routine grounder to re-load the bases for La Prise, who contributed his second hit of the inning, a two-run single up the middle to make it 6-0.


The big inning, said O’Connor, “allows someone like Brandon to go out and attack the strike zone.”


Waddell didn’t face more than four batters in an inning until the seventh, when he allowed Brian Anderson’s third hit and a two-run homer to Krisjon Wilkerson, a towering shot that barely cleared the 370-marker in left-center. He ended the night allowing seven hits – three came in the seventh inning – and two earned runs with four strikeouts.


Virginia added three runs in the top of the ninth. Fisher had a two-run single up the middle, and a third run scored on Bernal’s second error.


Whit Mayberry closed with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief, capping an impressive weekend that saw Virginia allow all of three runs in sweeping three games in the Regional.


“They’re going to be awfully tough to beat next weekend,” Van Horn said.


The Cavaliers will welcome ACC rival Maryland, which captured the Columbia Regional Sunday night, in the Super Regionals beginning this weekend. The Terrapins are making their first appearance in the Super Regional round in their last year in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten next year.


While O’Connor admitted a lot will be made of the fact two ACC teams will be playing for the right to go to Omaha and Maryland’s impending departure to the Big Ten, he said they would address Maryland in the coming days.


“I can’t turn the switch that quickly,” O’Connor said.


First things first, however. Another Regional celebration was in order for the Cavaliers.



  •       O’Connor on Mike Papi and the 3-2 walk that got the Cavaliers on the board in the third: “Mike Papi has a very advanced approach at the plate. He doesn’t often swing at pitches off the plate.”

  •       Van Horn on the quality of Virginia’s pitching staff: “What you have is a staff that’s competing to get on the mound with each other. That’s the best competition.”

  •       Van Horn on Regional Most Outstanding Player Nathan Kirby of Virginia: “He’s kind of special. He’s a guy every coach would like to have him pitch on Friday night.”

  •       O’Connor on Arkansas freshman starter Zach Jackson, whose fastball was reaching the low-to-mid 90s: “That guy is going to be really, really good. You watch the Major League Draft in two years. That guy is a lock to be a first-round pick.”

  •       Arkansas shortstop Michael Bernal made two costly errors, but he also made a splendid play in the fourth. On a hit-and-run, Bernal broke left to the bag to cover but stopped and took a couple steps before diving to spear Daniel Pinero’s sharp grounder. Bernal composed himself and fired to first in time.

  •       Razorbacks right fielder Tyler Spoon robbed Brandon Downes of a hit when he raced in on a short fly and made a slick diving catch at the grass blades.

  •       Virginia first baseman Mike Papi made several difficult plays look easy, including a tricky hop on Eric Fisher’s hard-hit grounder in the ninth inning.

  •       Virginia’s ERA dropped from 2.36 to 2.29 during the Regional, good for fifth in the country. The Cavaliers made one error in the three games and are now fielding .982, third in the nation.