By Jeff White
DURHAM, N.C. — The first player to bat for UVa, sophomore shortstop Chris Taylor, ripped the second pitch he faced into center field for a double. So began the Cavaliers’ onslaught Wednesday afternoon in one of the more one-sided games in the history of the ACC baseball tournament.
The mercy rule was invoked after 6½ innings, with top-seeded Virginia leading No. 8 seed Wake Forest 13-1 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Playing for the first time since getting swept at North Carolina, the Wahoos (46-9) tore into the Demon Deacons (25-29).
“There was a lot of intensity in our dugout today,” said UVa pitcher Tyler Wilson, who improved to 7-0 with a masterly performance.
In three games in Chapel Hill last weekend, Virginia totaled three runs and 15 hits. In their ACC tourney opener, the ‘Hoos had four runs by the end of the second inning. They finished with 15 hits in an abbreviated game.
“After a weekend like that [at UNC], you gotta really just flush it out of your system,” junior third baseman Steven Proscia said. “Coming out and making a statement like we did today, I think, is huge for our team.”
Coach Brian O’Connor said: “A lot of people made a lot about the three games that we lost at North Carolina at the end of the [regular] season. I knew the character of our players and what they’re made of, and I knew that they would respond today.
“It was obviously a tremendous offensive output by a number of guys in our lineup. And Tyler Wilson, every time this team has needed him to step up after a loss, all year long, he’s responded.”
Wilson, a senior right-hander, dominated Wednesday for a team that, as he put it later, hit the reset button after the UNC series.
He struck out a career-high 12 batters, walked one and allowed two hits before giving way to senior Cody Winiarski with one out in the top of the sixth. Wilson, a second-team All-ACC selection, left to a warm ovation after striking out Carlos Lopez.
“Obviously, Tyler Wilson was very good,” Wake coach Tom Walter said. “He really didn’t make many bad pitches, if any.”
The Deacons’ run came on Mac Williamson’s second-inning blast over the towering left-field wall called the Blue Monster. The home run was Williamson’s 12th of the season.
Wilson challenged him with a slider, Williamson said, and “that might have been the only one during the game that he left up. He made a mistake, and I was fortunate to take advantage of it.”
The eight teams that qualified were split into two groups for the ACC tournament. Division A comprises UVa, Wake, No. 4 seed UNC and No. 5 seed Miami; Division B, No. 2 seed Florida State, No. 3 seed Georgia Tech, No. 6 seed Clemson and No. 7 seed NC State.
The division winners will meet in the ACC championship game Sunday.
Virginia faces Miami (34-20) at 11 a.m. Friday, then takes on North Carolina (44-12) at 7 p.m. Saturday. O’Connor plans to start junior right-hander Will Roberts against the Hurricanes and junior left-hander Danny Hultzen, the two-time ACC pitcher of the year, against the Tar Heels.
In 2009, UVa won the ACC tourney in this downtown stadium. The setting clearly agrees with the Cavaliers, who have won eight consecutive games at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
“We’ll see as the week moves on if it really has something to do with that,” O’Connor said. “But it’s a beautiful ballpark. It’s a great place to play.
“Maybe there’s something to that. Maybe that’ll spot us a couple runs against Miami on Friday. I don’t know. It’s a great ballpark. I think it’s exciting for a player to play in a unique ballpark, a pro park. We seem to swing the bats pretty well here.”
On a sweltering afternoon, with temperatures in the 90s, Virginia scored eight runs off Wake starter Brian Holmes (3-4). The Deacons later used four relievers, trying in vain to slow UVa’s assault.
Led by Proscia, who was a single away from hitting for the cycle, the Cavaliers pounded out nine extra-base hits.
In its three losses at UNC, Virginia hit .167 and struck out 24 times. Proscia, one of five Cavaliers to make the All-ACC first team, was 0 for 8 in Chapel Hill. Like the rest of the team, he came to Durham with something to prove at the plate.
“My mindset was to attack the ball, and I think 1 through 9 we did that today,” said Proscia, who tripled in the third inning, doubled in the fifth and homered in the sixth.
Four players had three RBI apiece for UVa: Proscia, Taylor, junior first baseman Jared King and senior center-fielder Kenny Swab. Each went 3 for 4. King had three doubles, and Taylor had two.
Taylor is Virginia’s leadoff hitter, and “I know the last couple weeks he’s been frustrated a little bit,” O’Connor said. “But it was great to see him have three hits today and just really kind of set the tone in that first inning that we were going to be an aggressive offensive ball club.”