'Hoos Look to Bounce Back in Tourney Finale
May 22, 2015
DURHAM, N.C. — A rough stretch in this city has erased much of the momentum UVa’s baseball team carried into the postseason.
The week started on a promising note for Virginia, which thrashed Georgia Tech 11-0 in a play-in game Tuesday to advance to pool play in the ACC tournament at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
On Wednesday, however, seventh-seeded UVa gave up seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and lost 9-5 to No. 2 seed Miami. The Cavaliers had Thursday off, but they fared no better when they returned to the diamond Friday.
Against third-seeded Notre Dame — a team they swept in a late March regular-season series in South Bend, Ind. — the Wahoos lost 8-2, a result that eliminated them from contention for the ACC championship game.
Notre Dame (36-20) never trailed Friday. The Fighting Irish took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first and then added two more runs in the third on a throwing error to first by Virginia catcher Robbie Coman, who couldn’t handle Brandon Waddell’s third strike on Lane Richards.
In all, the `Hoos (34-21) committed two errors and walked eight batters Friday. Waddell, a junior left-hander, allowed seven hits and six runs — four earned — in six innings. Freshman Matt Doughty and then junior Kevin Doherty followed Waddell on the mound.
“Certainly Brandon Waddell has pitched better the last few weeks than he did today, but all the credit goes to Notre Dame, because they capitalized on our mistakes,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, whose team won six of its final seven regular-season games.
“We’ve played much better baseball the last three weeks than we did today, but that doesn’t take anything away certainly from what Notre Dame did.”
One game remains for Virginia in this tournament. At 7 p.m. Saturday, UVa takes on sixth-seeded NC State.
“We’re looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow and proving what we are as a team and who we are,” Thaiss said. “We’re going to show how we respond, and I think that’ll prove the character of our team.”
The Cavaliers’ mentality, Thaiss said, has not changed, the losses to Miami and Notre Dame notwithstanding.
“We’ve been playing really good ball the past couple weeks,” Thaiss said, “and just because we’ve had two rough games, that doesn’t characterize our team.”
Virginia and NC State played a three-game series in Raleigh late last month. The `Hoos won the opener, but the Wolfpack came back to take the next two games, winning each one on a walk-off home run.
For O’Connor, his team’s finale in Durham is anything but meaningless, and not only because the Cavaliers are hoping to enhance their NCAA tournament credentials with another quality victory.
“I think it’s really important from this standpoint: We have an opportunity, like Matt said, to go out there and respond,” O’Connor said. “The way that we played the game today is not Virginia baseball, and we have an opportunity tomorrow to come out and show what we’re made of.
“We may not win the game, but we have a chance to come out and play the game the right way, and we look forward to that opportunity tomorrow night.”
O’Connor said freshman left-hander Adam Haseley (2-1, 2.37 ERA) or junior lefty David Rosenberger (2-0, 4.94) will start against NC State, which took a 32-20 record into its Friday night game with Miami (43-13).
Against Notre Dame, Waddell (3-5, 4.52) struggled from the start. He surrendered a leadoff single and then issued three walks before recording the third out on a strikeout.
He was able to put that rough start behind him, Waddell said. Still, the “thing with the first inning is, as a starter your job is to really set the tone in the ball game, set the tone for your team, and that’s something I failed to do today,” he said.
“Three walks in the first inning especially, you can’t expect good results from that. It’s part of the game, but I gotta do a better job of really controlling the zone and going out there and setting a tone.
“I think I might have been maybe trying to be a little bit too fine, instead of going out and just completely attacking guys.”
Notre Dame’s starter, sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer, had no such issues Friday. Smoyer, a third-team All-ACC selection, allowed only four hits in six innings and raised his record to 9-0.
“He’s very, very quick to the plate,” O’Connor said. “He’s difficult to get timing and rhythm off of to hit. He uses that as his strength. He’s a very, very difficult guy to square a lot of balls up on.”
Thaiss said: “Like Coach said, he was quick to the plate, which might have had a little effect on us being on time. We gotta correct that ourselves, and we gotta attack.”
The NCAA selection show is Monday afternoon, and UVa appears likely to earn an invitation to the tournament for the 12th time in O’Connor’s 12 seasons as head coach.
Should his team be selected, O’Connor said Friday, Josh Sborz would return to the bullpen for the NCAA tournament. Sborz, a junior right-hander who for most of the regular season was the Cavaliers’ closer, started Tuesday against Georgia Tech and pitched a one-hit shutout.
O’Connor offered another, perhaps more significant, update during his postgame press conference Friday. All-ACC left-hander Nathan Kirby (5-2, 2.28) has resumed throwing, O’Connor said, and “does feel good at this point.”
Kirby, a junior, has not pitched since April 17, when he strained his left latissimus dorsi muscle against Miami. He’s fully recovered from the mononucleosis that added to his woes while he was sidelined with the lat injury.
If Virginia advances to the NCAA tournament, O’Connor said, he expects Kirby to be available next weekend.
“As of right now, he would be,” O’Connor said, “but I don’t know how the next five or six days will go. But he feels good, and he’s throwing, and we’ll evaluate it as we move forward. But he looks very good in his throwing program.”
The return of Kirby would be an enormous boost for the `Hoos. For now, though, they’re focused on closing their stay in Durham on a positive note.
“Our confidence hasn’t wavered at all,” Waddell said. “We still have complete and total faith in all of our guys. We know what we’re capable of, and our expectations within the locker room are never really going to change.”
BROADCAST INFORMATION: The ACC’s Regional Sports Networks (Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic in Virginia and Maryland) is televising all tournament games through Saturday. The games also will be streamed online on ESPN3.
ESPN2 will broadcast Sunday’s championship game.
UVa’s live radio broadcasts are available on VirginiaSports.com through a Cavaliers Live subscription. A link to live statistics also can be found on VirginiaSports.com.
WINA 1070-AM and WINA.com will carry the live local radio broadcasts of all UVa postseason games.