By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the first inning, he allowed three hits, one of them a two-run double that was nearly a home run.
In the ninth, University of Virginia ace Connor Jones needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side.
“Connor seemed like he got stronger as the game went on,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said Friday night at Davenport Field.
The Cavaliers are growing stronger as the season goes on. In the opener of a three-game series with No. 19 Georgia Tech, No. 12 UVA rallied for a 6-3 victory Friday night to stretch its winning streak to seven games.
A victory Saturday or Sunday would give the Wahoos (32-17, 15-10) their fourth straight ACC series win and bolster their bid to host an NCAA tournament regional next month. They expect serious resistance from the Jackets (32-17, 11-13).
“They’re a really good team,” Virginia’s Adam Haseley said Friday night. “They can swing it, and they have good arms. We know we’ve got to show up tomorrow with the same intensity that we did today.”
Game 2 is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. Junior right-hander Alec Bettinger (1-4, 5.45 ERA) will start for the `Hoos. Haseley (7-2, 1.35), a sophomore left-hander, will take the mound for the series finale Sunday at noon.
If either of them comes close to matching Jones’ Friday night performance, Virginia will be delighted. A junior right-hander from Chesapeake, Jones worked the full nine innings for the third time in his past five starts.
“Friday nights, Connor throws complete games here,” said sophomore left-fielder Charlie Cody, who played with Jones at Great Bridge High School. “It’s getting to be the norm.
“We all know he’s one of the most talented pitchers in college baseball, and it’s no surprise what he’s doing. When he gets in a groove like that, we just try to play good defense behind him and let him do his thing.”
Jones (10-1, 1.96) is the first Cavalier to throw three complete games in a season since Will Roberts in 2011. Jones struck out seven, walked one and scattered seven hits Friday night.
“He’s incredible,” said Haseley, who played center field and went 2 for 4 with three RBI. “I think the key for him tonight was he was really efficient after that first inning.”
The Jackets came in hitting .317, with 49 home runs, and they pounced on Jones early. Georgia Tech’s first two batters singled, and after a sacrifice bunt, cleanup hitter Kel Johnson hammered a double off the wall in center field.
“They did a nice job against [Jones] out of the gate,” O’Connor said, “and I think he did a nice job making an adjustment there as the game went on, starting mixing his pitches a little better and hitting his spots.”
Jones needed only seven pitches in the eighth, and the Jackets looked helpless at the plate in their final at-bats.
“The adrenaline definitely gets to you in the ninth inning,” Jones said. “But I’ve just realized that when you pitch deep into the games, the eighth and ninth, you just have to raise your level of focus and you really have to come out and focus on being extra sharp.”
Before the Cavaliers broke for final exams, Jones threw complete games against Boston College (April 8) and Pitt (April 30). “Knowing that we have two games left — one Saturday and one Sunday — and we have our bullpen [rested], it feels really good,” Jones said of his latest feat.
Jones arrived at UVA as a heralded recruit, and he was a weekend starter in 2015 on the team that won the College World Series. He’s taken another step forward this season.
“I think if you want to continue to develop and have success at this level, and then progress [as a pro], just a great arm isn’t going to cut it,” O’Connor said. “He’s come here and he’s learned how to pitch. He still has that great arm, he’ll still touch 95, 96 miles an hour, but now he’s a complete pitcher, and that wins for us here at the University of Virginia, and then it certainly wins at the next level beyond this.”
That Jones is consistently pitching deep into games “is definitely a sign of maturity,” O’Connor said.
“He’s somebody that doesn’t get caught up necessarily on the velocity on the scoreboard, or the strikeouts. He’s pitching to contact. He’s going after hitters, and all of the sudden you look up and the guy’s deep into the game, and now after tonight he’s a 10-game winner. I’m really proud of him. That shows growth and maturity through his time here, and he’s turned himself into one heck of a pitcher.”
For the `Hoos, the series opener marked their first game at Davenport Field since April 20. They hadn’t played anywhere since May 3, when they defeated Liberty 7-3 in Lynchburg.
“I’m ecstatic,” O’Connor said of his team’s performance coming out of finals. “I just thought we came out and played with a lot of energy. I thought the fundamentals that we played with, and I think our overall approach, defensively, offensively and on the mound, was really, really good.”
Virginia’s batters struggled against Georgia Tech starter Brandon Gold early. He gave up only one hit — a double to junior Daniel Pinero — in the first three innings. In the fourth, though, the Cavaliers broke through.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Haseley fell behind 0-2. That didn’t faze him. He doubled off the right-field wall to score junior Matt Thaiss and sophomore Pavin Smith. The next batter, Charlie Cody, homered over the left-field wall, and suddenly Virginia led 4-2.
The home run was the first of the season for Cody. Haseley followed suit in the sixth, his solo shot easily clearing the wall in right field. With six homers, Haseley is tied for second on the team with Smith. (Thaiss leads with seven.)
“I tell you, the home run power is in that bat of Adam Haseley,” O’Connor said. “He doesn’t try to hit `em, but the ball gets off his bat. He’s an aggressive hitter … It’s in there, and I think there’s more to come too.”
Gold (6-3) allowed a season-high 10 hits before giving way to Burton Dulaney with one out in the sixth.
The `Hoos finished with 11 hits and raised their batting average to .299. Virginia has scored more than five runs in seven of its past nine games.
“I think we’re just being more aggressive than we have been,” Haseley said of the team’s increased production. “I think we’re hitting balls hard when we’ve got guys on. I don’t think there’s one thing. I think we’re just having good at-bats as a team.”