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June 2, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Brandon Waddell watched Artie Lewicki dominate on the mound Friday and then saw Nathan Kirby do the same a day later at Davenport Field.

It was Waddell’s turn on Sunday night, and he became the third starting pitcher from UVa to dazzle in this NCAA tournament.

Lewicki, a senior right-hander, allowed only three hits in seven innings Friday as top-seeded Virginia opened the Charlottesville Regional with a 10-1 win over fourth-seeded Bucknell.

Kirby, a sophomore left-hander who was named to the Louisville Slugger All-America first team last week, allowed one hit in eight innings Saturday night in UVa’s 3-0 victory over second-seeded Arkansas.

Waddell, another sophomore left-hander, struck out four and walked none in 6.2 innings Sunday night in what turned out to be the final game of this double-elimination regional.

“Those guys were tremendous,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said after his team routed Arkansas 9-2 to advance to an NCAA super regional for the fifth time in six seasons.

“I thought Brandon Waddell was spectacular tonight. He was in complete control of the game and, like all three of our starters did this weekend, pitched deep into the ball game. We didn’t have to tax our bullpen much.”

Behind the plate for all three games was junior catcher Nate Irving, who marveled at his pitchers’ performances.

“Phenomenal,” Irving said Sunday night. “I think looking a little deeper than just the stats and the box scores, the rhythm that we pitched with this weekend was really, really good. All three guys were able to get in really good rhythms, and they didn’t really come out of it.”

The Wahoos (47-13) will try to work more magic on the mound next weekend when they host Maryland in a best-of-three NCAA super regional at Davenport Field. The NCAA will announce the dates (June 6-8 or June 7-9) of each super regional once regional play is completed late Monday or early Tuesday.

Combining stellar pitching and nearly flawless fielding, the Cavaliers gave up only three runs in their three regional games. Equally important was their offense, which totaled 28 hits and scored 22 runs in the regional. Coming into the NCAA tournament, the `Hoos had played in 20 one-run games this season, but they had no anxious moments in the late innings at the regional.

Among the Cavaliers who distinguished themselves at the plate over the weekend were sophomore John La Prise, who was 7 for 12, junior Mike Papi, who crushed a two-run home run Saturday night against the Razorbacks, and junior Derek Fisher, who went 2 for 4 and drove in four runs Sunday night.

“I had a really good feeling going into this tournament about our offensive ball club,” O’Connor said. “Much was made about it nationally going into the season, and maybe we didn’t meet expectations from just an offensive standpoint, but I was fully confident as the year progressed that it would come together at some point, and I really think that it has.

“Just the athletes we have, the physicality of those guys, is impressive. Hopefully this is something positive that we can continue moving forward from an offensive standpoint, because you’re not just going to win them all 2-1.”

At last month’s ACC tournament, Virginia lost two of three games and did not advance out of pool play to the championship game. But the experience served his team well, O’Connor said. The `Hoos faced three elite starting pitchers in Greensboro, N.C., “and I knew those were the kind of arms we were going to have to beat in the regional and super regional and beyond,” O’Connor said.

The Razorbacks (40-25) defeated Bucknell in an elimination game Sunday afternoon, and fatigue took a toll on them that night. The Cavaliers showed Arkansas no mercy. Virginia broke the game open with a six-run third inning whose key play was the bases-loaded walk that Papi drew with two outs on a 3-2 pitch from starter Zach Jackson.

“He’s got a tremendous eye,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Papi. “We were one pitch from getting out of that jam.”

Sophomore Joe McCarthy followed with an infield single that drove in junior Brandon Downes and made it 2-0, and then Fisher smashed a two-run single. Finally, La Prise, who had led off the inning with a single, got another hit, this one a two-run single up the middle that made it 6-0.

“In the third everybody’s being aggressive, everybody’s taking really good swings,” La Prise said. “It shows that when people are being aggressive, good things happen.”

For the Cavaliers, who advanced to the College World Series in 2009 and ’11, this will be the first time an ACC opponent has stood between them and Omaha in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.

In the expanded ACC, which Maryland is leaving this summer for the Big Ten, teams don’t play all of their conference rivals during the regular season. The `Hoos and the Terrapins didn’t meet this season until May 22, in the ACC tournament opener for both teams. Maryland hit four home runs and won 7-6 that day in Greensboro, a loss the Cavaliers would love to avenge.

“It’ll be a great opportunity for us,” Irving said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, and we’re ready for it.”

The Terps (38-21), who lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game, were seeded No. 2 at the Columbia (S.C.) Regional. The Terps rallied to defeat Old Dominion on Friday and then beat top-seeded South Carolina 4-3 on Saturday and 10-1 on Sunday.

South Carolina won 28 straight NCAA tournament games at home before losing Saturday.

“They have proven over the last few weeks and all season that they’ve got a special ball club,” O’Connor said of the Terps.

This is O’Connor’s 11th season at UVa, where he has coached special clubs year after year. This one, however, has had to contend with exceptionally high expectations. The Cavaliers began the year ranked No. 1 by Baseball America and Perfect Game, spent much of the regular season atop the polls and earned the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

“This team comes in and just has enormous expectations,” O’Connor said, “and they managed it really well all year long. To win the regional championship here and be going to another super regional, I couldn’t be more proud.”

His players practiced exceptionally well in the days leading up to the regional, O’Connor said, and that carried over to the games at Davenport Field, where UVa is 32-3 this season.

Perhaps, a reporter suggested to O’Connor in the early hours Monday, Virginia’s veterans had been saving their best performances for the NCAA tournament.

“Maybe,” O’Connor said, smiling. “I can tell you in the back of my mind I’ve thought about that at times, throughout the season when you maybe get frustrated that we’re not quite doing it at a clip that I would want.

“I kept saying that maybe it will all come together at some point. Maybe they were waiting for this time. Certainly they’re playing well.”

Van Horn can attest to the Cavaliers’ form.

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

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Selected from UVa were Papi at first base, La Prise at third base, Kenny Towns at designated hitter, Downes and Fisher in the outfield, and Kirby and Lewicki at pitcher.

Kirby was named the Charlottesville Regional’s most outstanding player.

Rounding out the regional’s all-tournament team were Bucknell catcher Jon Mayer, Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson, Arkansas third baseman Michael Bernal and Liberty outfielder Ashton Perritt.

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