June 8, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia baseball team has one game left at Davenport Field this season. The outcome of that game will determine whether the Cavaliers advance to the college game’s biggest stage — Omaha, Neb. — for the third time in six seasons.
At 7 p.m. Monday, UVa (48-14) hosts Maryland (40-22) in the final game of the best-of-three Charlottesville Super Regional. The winner moves on to the eight-team College World Series, which begins next weekend in Omaha.
Sophomore Josh Sborz (4-4, 3.38 ERA) will start on the mound Monday for the Wahoos, who are 33-4 at home this season. The game, which is sold out, will be shown on ESPNU.
The Terrapins took Game 1 of the series, winning 5-4 on Saturday afternoon, and the Cavaliers counter-punched 24 hours later, totaling 17 hits in a 7-3 victory before a capacity crowd of 5,001 at Davenport Field.
“Certainly there’s a lot of talent on this ball club,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said, “and they showed that today.”
This is O’Connor’s 11th season with the Cavaliers, who will be the home team Monday night as a result of winning the coin flip mandated by NCAA rules. He’s guided the `Hoos to the NCAA tournament every year and to the round of 16 in five of the past six seasons.
“There’s a lot of anxiety this time of the year,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s natural. I think that’s human nature. But I personally was as calm today as I ever have been at this time of the year, and that was because I know what these guys are made of, and I know the talent that they have.
“You gotta come beat us, because I think what we’re bringing to the table is pretty good.”
Papi said: “Our coaching staff had so much confidence in us today coming into the game. They were so confident in us and with that we were able to play relaxed and keep our approach. Being experienced players, we know that there’s a lot on the line and this could possibly be the last game, so we were going to leave it all on the field.”
That the first NCAA super regional to match ACC teams is going to a third game doesn’t surprise Maryland coach John Szefc.
“Realistically, it was going to be very difficult to come in here and beat these guys the first two [games],” Szefc said.
The Terrapins’ fans, so boisterous Saturday, had little to cheer about Sunday at Davenport. Virginia starter Brandon Waddell held Maryland to one run through 5.2 innings, and his replacement, Artie Lewicki, dominated until the ninth, when the Terps rallied for two runs.
Virginia, the visiting team, took the lead for good in the sixth inning, when sophomore John La Prise’s groundout scored Towns, who’d led off with a double and then advanced to third on an error. The `Hoos blew the game open with a three-run seventh and added a run in the eighth and another in the ninth.
In Game 1, UVa was only 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position. For a while Sunday, against Maryland starter Mike Shawaryn, the Cavaliers’ struggles continued in those situations.
“We got runners on again, and we just couldn’t punch them home,” O’Connor said. “But that’s OK. Our guys didn’t lose the confidence that they need to be successful, and then the back half of the game we found a way to punch those guys across and open the game up a little bit.”
Lewicki, a senior right-hander whom Detroit selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball draft Friday had not pitched in relief since April 8, and the coaching staff planned to start him in the series finale had Game 2 unfolded differently. But with Maryland runners on first and second with two outs in a close game Sunday, O’Connor didn’t hesitate to call on Lewicki to relieve Waddell.
“I made that decision that you’re in a one-game season right now,” O’Connor said, “and we’ve got a lot of confidence in Artie, that he’s going to go out there and throw strikes, and he certainly made three big pitches there to get us out of that inning and finish the ballgame.”
Lewicki retired the first seven batters he faced, starting with Kevin Martir, who struck out on three pitches to end the sixth.
“It’s been a while since I came out of the pen, so I was definitely excited,” Lewicki said. “It was a different feeling, but I just tried to go out there and throw strikes, and it worked out.”
Papi said: “Baseball’s all [about] momentum. When [Lewicki] came in and struck him out on three pitches, just attacked him and made the hitter work instead of putting the pressure on himself, it really changed the momentum in our favor.”
UVa and Maryland had met only once this season before the super regional, May 22 at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. In that game, which the Terps won 7-6, Lewicki allowed five hits, including a homer, and four runs.
“I was just making better pitches today,” Lewicki said Sunday. “The ball was just finding infielders’ gloves instead of the ground.”
O’Connor said he didn’t consider pulling Lewicki and bringing him back as the Monday starter.
“Artie was throwing strikes,” O’Connor said. “I felt like that’s what we needed at that point, and I just decided to stay with him. I really wasn’t worried about tomorrow. I know it’s about winning the series, but tomorrow we have an opportunity to show what a complete pitching staff we have.”
Sborz, a 6-3, 225-pound right-hander, has yet to pitch in this NCAA tournament. For most of the regular season, he was the Cavaliers’ Saturday starter, until Lewicki replaced him in that role. Opponents are hitting only .207 against Sborz this season.
Other pitchers who’ll be available Monday include senior Austin Young, freshmen Connor Jones and Alec Bettinger, sophomore David Rosenberger and, of course, junior Nick Howard, the All-America closer whom the Reds drafted Thursday night with the 19th overall pick.
O’Connor wasn’t ready to say at his postgame press conference Sunday which catcher would start for the Cavaliers on Monday. Junior Nate Irving has started 45 games this season, but he’s 0 for 11 at the plate in the NCAA tournament. O’Connor went with Robbie Coman on Sunday, and the sophomore from Lake Worth, Fla., had a single and scored Virginia’s first and last runs.
“We’re really fortunate here that we have two really outstanding catchers,” O’Connor said.
The Diamondbacks picked Irving in the 34th round Saturday, O’Connor noted, and Coman “does everything the right way. He’s a total team guy. He’s a very good player. At some point tonight it’ll come to me what the right thing to do is. It’s a good luxury to have.”
Only once in an NCAA tournament game — when the Cavaliers rang up 18 hits against Princeton in 2006 — have they had more hits than on Sunday.
Junior center-fielder Brandon Downes, who came into the super regional batting only .218, had two hits for the second straight game. He’s batting .333 in the NCAA tournament.
“I felt the last few weeks that Brandon Downes was taking more consistent passes at the baseball,” O’Connor said. “He was barreling it up more. Downes is swinging the bat now like he was last year.”
Downes, whom the Royals drafted in the seventh round Friday, hit .316 as a sophomore but has been bothered by a wrist injury for much of this season.
“Dealing with the injuries he’s had this year, dealing with the inconsistencies, the fact that he’s performing the best that he has since the early part of the season really says something about what he’s made of,” O’Connor said.
Without question, the 6-3, 210-pound Papi has been the Cavaliers’ best player in this NCAA tournament. In six games, he’s 11 for 20 (.550) with six RBI. In the super regional, he’s 6 for 8.
The Indians chose Papi with the 38th overall pick Thursday night, and it’s easy to see why pro scouts are so high on him.
“I think he’s kind of showing you who he really is in these two days,” Szefc said. “That’s as good a left-handed hitter as we’ve probably seen throughout the whole year.
“Lefty, right, whatever you do, he’s making you really work for an out against him.”