June 5, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia baseball team needed only three games to win the NCAA tournament’s Lake Elsinore regional in California last weekend.
Had the USC Trojans defeated the Cavaliers on Sunday, however, a winner-take-all game would have been required Monday to determine the regional champion. In that scenario, UVa would have handed the ball to Adam Haseley with no hesitation.
Never mind that Haseley, a 6-1, 195-pound left-hander, is a freshman who’s pitched only 23.2 innings this season. He’s had plenty of big-game experience. In the summer of 2013, Haseley batted a team-high .452 in nine games to help USA Baseball win the 18U World Cup in Taichung, Taiwan.
Haseley also pitched in relief for the national team.
“He’s been there and he’s done that,” Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn said Thursday afternoon at Davenport Field. “He’s succeeded at the highest level, and it doesn’t bother him.”
Haseley is one of three players, along with classmate Pavin Smith and senior Kenny Towns, to have started every game this season for UVa, which is two wins from a second straight trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Haseley, the Cavaliers’ leadoff hitter, plays center field when he’s not on the mound.
“There’s a lot expected of him, and he’s done a great job handling himself,” said Virginia junior Joe McCarthy, who starts next to Haseley in right field.
Early in the season, Haseley said Wednesday, he struggled under the weight of so much responsibility. After his first 15 games as a Cavalier, he was hitting .169.
“But I think that you learn from it and you learn from your mistakes and your failures that you make,” said Haseley, who’s batted .291 in his past 44 games. “You adapt to it, and you keep going, and eventually things are going to get better.”
When the Cavaliers recruited Haseley, who’s from Windermere, Fla., outside Orlando, they “knew that he was a pretty special player,” head coach Brian O’Connor said.
“Adam had some really special, unique experiences with USA Baseball. Not only playing on a worldwide stage, but also his performance in those [events] was as good as it gets. He’s been in situations before where there’s been a lot of pressure, and the kid came here with a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure. Certainly I don’t think we’d be where we’re at without him.”
For the sixth time in seven seasons, the Wahoos have advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. In a best-of-three super regional that starts Friday at 4 p.m., UVa (37-22) will host former ACC rival Maryland (42-22) at Davenport Field.
Game 2 will start at 3 p.m. Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for the super regional sold out Thursday.
In late April, as they headed into a nine-day break for final exams, the ‘Hoos looked nothing like a team that would still be playing in early June. They were 10-14 in ACC play and 27-18 overall.
Not only was it possible that the Cavaliers would miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in O’Connor’s 12 seasons as their coach, they were in danger of not qualifying for the ACC tourney. But look at them now.
“I think struggling a little bit kind of pulled us together,” Haseley said. “We were able to have some heart-to-heart talks with each other and really analyze what has happening.”
Haseley, who’s hitting .261, and Smith (.309), who leads the Cavaliers with 73 hits, were named to Louisville Slugger’s Freshman All-America team this week.
“That’s a great accomplishment for him and myself,” said Haseley, who rooms with Smith on the road. “I’m very blessed and fortunate to have that.”
In the Lake Elsinore regional, Haseley went 4 for 12 and scored five runs. Smith, who bats fifth in the lineup, was 3 for 9, with three RBI, and made a spectacular catch at the left-field wall Sunday to rob USC of an extra-base hit.
Both were named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team last month.
“We’ve been talking about those two guys all year long,” O’Connor said. “They were such highly thought-of kids out of high school, and they certainly followed it up with their performances [this season] … Those guys have really matured, and they’re great college baseball players.”
Haseley, born and raised in Florida, began playing for USA Baseball national teams when he was 14. Of his experience in Taiwan in 2013, he said, “I think definitely the 18-and-under team helped with being away from home for a month and playing in completely new places that are foreign to you. I think that experience helped mature me a little bit.”
Asked to assess his first college season, Haseley said, “I think it’s been filled with a lot of challenges. It’s definitely been a big learning experience, definitely different from high school ball. It’s been tougher, and you take each game as a learning experience, and you try to pick up on things that are going to help you individually as a player.”
In November of his junior year at The First Academy, a private Christian school in Orlando, Haseley committed to UVa. He chose Virginia over Mississippi and Wake Forest.
“We visited Wake Forest and then came here,” Haseley recalled. “After coming here, it was a how-can-you-say-no kind of thing.”
Haseley didn’t make his UVa pitching debut until April 1, but there were extenuating circumstances.
“We recruited him as much as a pitcher as we did as a position player,” O’Connor said, “but because of all the injuries we had with our position players, we really didn’t have an option to start pitching him until we got some guys healthy. We knew at some point during the season he would be helping us. We just didn’t know when, and certainly it worked out and he was able to contribute for us on the mound.”
Haseley, who plans to major in religious studies at UVa, is 2-1 this season with a 2.66 earned-run average. As impressive as his command are his maturity and temperament when he pitches.
“A pitcher has to be even-keeled,” Kuhn said. “It doesn’t make him very good if he’s a roller-coaster or yo-yo, up and down, and that’s the way Adam carries himself on the field as well.”
O’Connor said: “He’s very mature. He’s very, very poised. There’s not a lot of outward emotion on the field. He plays and grinds and is a pretty advanced player and knows what he’s doing.”
Haseley has “two sides to him,” McCarthy said. “In the locker room, he’s a guy that loves to have fun. He’s a very laidback guy, but when we’re out on the field he’s a fierce competitor, and that’s what we love about him.”
Against USC on Sunday, Virginia trailed 9-5 after five innings, and it occurred to Haseley he might have to pitch the next day.
“It was definitely in my mind, and I was preparing that it might happen,” Haseley said Wednesday at Davenport Field. “I thought I was ready if that would have happened.”
Had O’Connor and Kuhn not been saving him for a possible Monday finale, Haseley might well have pitched Sunday against the Trojans, especially after UVa starter Alec Bettinger failed to record an out before giving way to Kevin Doherty in the first inning.
If a third game is needed, Haseley will be a viable option on the mound.
“No question,” O’Connor said. “He certainly could come into play this weekend.”
TOUGH CALL: At his press conference Thursday afternoon, O’Connor said junior left-hander Nathan Kirby, a two-time All-ACC selection, has been “100-percent fully cleared by” UVa’s medical staff.
“That said, I don’t know if he will pitch [in the super regional],” O’Connor told reporters.
Kirby, who’s 5-2 this season with a 2.28 earned-run average, has not pitched since April 17, when he strained his left latissimus dorsi muscle against ACC foe Miami.
“It’s just going to be a gut feeling on my part, quite frankly,” O’Connor said. “I just gotta go over whether it’s the right thing to do. I’ll make [a decision Thursday night], but chances are he will not pitch this weekend.”
For a pitcher who’s been been sidelined as long as Kirby has, O’Connor said, returning to form is a gradual process.
“I don’t think he threw a pitch or played catch for four-and-a-half weeks or so,” O’Connor said. “You don’t all of a sudden flip it on and say, `OK, the guy’s got full medical clearance. Now he can go out there and throw at 100 percent and face batters.’ The guy hasn’t faced batters in seven weeks.
“You gotta do what is right by this group of players and what is right by the young man, so I’ve got to process all that.”