Sept. 25, 2014
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — University of Virginia baseball returned to Davenport Field this week, and the fans who came out on a crisp fall afternoon saw a familiar pitcher, right-hander Connor Jones, wearing a new jersey, No. 33.
They also saw him dominate the Ontario Blue Jays in the first of the Cavaliers’ two fall exhibitions. Jones, a 6-3, 200-pound sophomore, struck out two and allowed no hits, no walks and no runs in three innings Tuesday.
“I think he looks like he did last year in the first half of the year. Maybe a little bit better,” UVa coach Brian O’Connor said after his team swept the doubleheader, which consisted of two seven-inning games.
“I think the velocity’s even better. He was up to 95 [mph] today, so I thought he looked really good and really sharp … I thought he looked really outstanding.”
Jones, a graduate of Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, was widely considered the gem of the recruiting class that enrolled at Virginia last summer, and by any standard his first college season was a success.
He made 25 appearances for a team that would finish as NCAA runner-up, and he posted a 4-1 record and 3.13 earned-run average. Jones was second on the team in innings pitched out of the bullpen (50.2). As the season wore on, though, his effectiveness diminished, and his last appearance came May 30 against Bucknell in the NCAA tournament’s Charlottesville Regional.
The Wahoos played 11 more games after that, including six at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“I think last year at the end of the year he just ran into one of those freshman things where he was kind of out of gas,” O’Connor said, “which happens at times.”
Jones said: “I definitely agree with him. I felt it, and it was not as much of a physical wall, which is what I think most people expect. It was more of a mental wall.”
As much as he might have wanted to pitch more in the NCAA tournament, Jones said, “when the team is playing so well, you gotta go with who has the hot hand. Fortunately for us our seniors and upperclassmen, Artie Lewicki and Whit Mayberry, stepped up, and they were the hottest ones out there. Obviously we kept giving them the ball, and we kept winning.”
After the Cavaliers’ season ended in late June, Jones headed to New Hampshire, along with teammates Robbie Coman, Jack Roberts and Alec Bettinger, to play for the Keene Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Before Jones left Charlottesville, O’Connor said Tuesday, “I told him that he needed to dwell on the positives from last year and what he did in the first 75 percent of the year, and that he’s got tons of talent, and he just needed to go out this summer and continue to get better. And he certainly did, and it shows.”
Jones pitched in five games for the Swamp Bats, with four starts, and went 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA. In 22.2 innings, he struck out 22 and allowed 17 hits.
In Keene, Jones stayed at the home of a local couple, Bill and JoAnn Fenton, as did Stephen Smith, an outfielder from Texas Tech, which like Virginia advanced to Omaha last season.
“So that was pretty cool,” Jones said. “But having Alec and Jack and Robbie there made it really easy, because you knew not only knew people off the field, but on the field you had a sense of togetherness.”
From a team that won 53 games last season, the `Hoos return weekend starters Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell and Josh Sborz. But they must replace such pitching mainstays as Lewicki, Mayberry, Austin Young and Nick Howard (who wore jersey No. 33 during his UVa career).
Kirby’s improvement from his first year to his second has been well-chronicled — he was a first-team All-American last season — and UVa pitching coach Karl Kuhn hopes to see similar progress from Jones.
“Look at what we’ve lost,” Kuhn said Tuesday night. “We’ve lost veterans in Austin Young, Whit Mayberry and Artie Lewicki. It’s hard to replace that experience, minus the stuff that they have, which is great stuff. And you lost your closer, who’s a first-round draft pick, in Nick Howard.
“Someone’s gotta fill that void. Kirby, Waddell and Sborz ain’t going nine every game. Someone’s going to have to pick it up, and these guys will.”
At this time last fall, Jones had been at UVa for only a couple of months.
“Obviously it was a whirlwind at this point a year ago,” he said Tuesday, “and it feels like it was five years ago. But really, the game’s slowed down so much for me, and the perspective that the coaches tell you really sinks in, and you just start to see things a lot easier, and it just starts to make so much more sense.”
Virginia’s second fall exhibition is Sunday against Towson, starting at noon at Davenport Field. There is no admission charge for fans.
Kirby, Waddell and Sborz are expected to pitch Sunday. The format will remain the same as on Tuesday.
`I thought it was fantastic, really,” O’Connor said of the doubleheader with the Blue Jays. “When you have 13 new players, 13 first-years, just for them to play somebody else [is important]. There’s a different level of urgency when you’re playing a game. There’s people in the stands to perform [for], and I thought it was really, really beneficial. Quite frankly, I thought we played better than we did against these guys last year.”
His pitching coach came away pleased, too. Against Ontario, a program whose alumni include Daniel Pinero, now UVa’s starting shortstop, Kuhn liked the way his freshman pitchers handled themselves.
“I think it was really nice to see Bennett Sousa attack,” Kuhn said. “I think it was really nice to see Derek Casey in a close game come out and throw strikes. I think it was really impressive after four-and-a-half, five hours, to see Tommy Doyle wait around and not have residual effects of sitting on his tail for five hours, and to blow gas. I thought that was really, really good.”
Roberts, a 6-4, 200-pound right-hander who redshirted as a freshman last season, “didn’t have his best day, but he threw absolutely lights out [last week], and maybe I did something wrong with his work this week and got him off schedule,” Kuhn said.
“I don’t know. I’ll take the blame for that one. I think we jumbled his schedule around a little bit, and he may have not been as fresh as I would have liked him today, but I would think he’s going to come back strong.”
Adam Haseley, a freshman left-hander, pitched two innings of scoreless relief in the first game. He spent the rest of the doubleheader in right field, and he had three hits in the first game. Classmate Pavin Smith had two hits in the second game, including a home run that cleared the bleachers in right field.
“You can see why Haseley and Smith are such highly touted recruits,” O’Connor said. “They’re very, very athletic. They can both hit. Haseley did a nice job on the mound, too, and certainly they showed that they’re going to have the ability to help contribute with us right away.”
Another newcomer of note is infielder Ernie Clement, a freshman from Rochester, N.Y.
“He’s a really good, athletic player,” O’Connor said. “He’s been mainly playing second base, but he could really play anywhere on our infield. His first-step quickness on the infield is really good. So I think he’s going to certainly make an impact for us.”
LOOKING AHEAD: UVa’s 2015 schedule was released Thursday, and it includes 19 games against teams that played in the 2014 postseason, among them ACC newcomer Louisville, which advanced to the College World Series.
Season tickets for 2015 go on sale Wednesday, Oct. 1. UVa baseball season-ticket holders should expect to receive their electronic application Oct. 1 and a paper application in the mail in mid-October.
Fans may renew their season tickets online by logging into their individual ticket accounts at www.VirginiaSports.com/tickets beginning Oct. 1. The priority ordering deadline is Dec. 12. A three-month payment plan is available to fans who purchase season tickets by the priority-ordering deadline.
Fans may purchase tickets online at www.VirginiaSports.com or through the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium. The ticket office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. for in-person or telephone purchases. Call (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821.