By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — If Kyle Crockett leaves the University of Virginia this year to pursue a professional baseball career, teammate Derek Fisher will have mixed feelings. As much as he would love to play with Crockett again in 2014, Fisher would not miss having to face the 6-foot-2 left-hander in practice.
“Kyle Crockett is the most devastating pitcher I’ve ever faced,” Fisher said Friday afternoon at Davenport Field. “I hate facing him at all costs. I usually just go up there hacking, and if it gets in play, it gets in play. I’ve said that if I faced him with a wood bat, I would break a dozen in a dozen swings.”
In the NCAA tournament’s round of 16, the best-of-three series between Virginia (50-10) and Mississippi State (46-18) starts Saturday at 1 p.m. at sold-out Davenport Field. On the eve of this super regional, Crockett took a step toward realizing his boyhood dream of playing pro baseball.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Virginia second baseman Reed Gragnani said.
On the second day of the Major League Baseball draft, the Cleveland Indians selected Crockett with the fifth pick of the fourth round Friday afternoon. A junior who starred at Poquoson High, where he went 27-0 in his final two seasons, Crockett was chosen 111th overall.
“It’s awesome. I’m ecstatic,” he told reporters about 25 minutes later. “It hasn’t really kicked in yet, with all the emotions and everything yet, but once I start talking to my family, I think I’ll be more [emotional] about it.
“Playing pro ball has been a dream. I didn’t know when it would come or if it would come, but I’m glad I got picked.”
Also, said Crockett, who’s never been to Cleveland, “I’m glad that it’s out of the way and we can focus on this weekend and this team.”
In his first season as the Cavaliers’ closer, Crockett has been spectacular. A first-team All-ACC selection, he’s 4-1 with a 1.68 earned-run average. In 53.2 innings, he’s struck out 68 batters and walked only six. Opponents are hitting .202 against Crockett.
“We’ve had some pretty special closers here, and this is no disrespect to any of them, but this guy is the best,” Brian O’Connor, who’s in his 10th season as UVa’s coach, said Saturday.
“He’s really, really talented,” O’Connor added Tuesday when asked about Crockett. “But it’s one thing to be really, really talented, but it’s another thing to be a performer day in and day out, and certainly that’s what Kyle’s done.”
Fisher, a sophomore who’s hitting .306, will attest to that.
“I just kind of feel bad for guys that face him in a game, because it’s the first time that these guys have seen him,” Fisher said. “I’ve seen him for two years and I still can’t hit him. So I can only imagine what it would be like if you’ve never seen him pitch before.”
Freshman left-hander Brandon Waddell (6-2, 3.80) will start Saturday for the Wahoos. Another left-hander, fifth-year senior Scott Silverstein (10-1, 2.86), will get the ball first Sunday night in Game 2. Behind them is a bullpen that didn’t allow a run in the Cavaliers’ 3-0 run through the Charlottesville regional last weekend.
Crockett and his fellow relievers will face a Mississippi State lineup led by Hunter Renfroe, whom the San Diego Padres selected Thursday night with the 13th pick of the first round. Renfroe, a junior right-fielder, is hitting .352 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI.
“We’re going to have to keep stepping up our game, but that’s what we do,” Crockett said. “We’re going to get better every weekend, and this weekend’s really no different. We’re going to go out there and play our game, and if we do that we can beat them.”
This is the Cavaliers’ first appearance in a super regional since 2011, when in Game 3 they scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun UC Irvine 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd at Davenport Field. The stunning comeback sent the `Hoos to the College World Series for the second time in three seasons.
“That’s something you can’t really script,” said Fisher, who recalls watching the decisive third game on TV with his family on vacation in Ocean City, Md. “That happens to guys that earn it.”
Crockett said: “It still gives me the chills thinking about it. But we’re just going to focus on this weekend. We’re going to play our game, and I think we can come out on top.”