By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kevin Doherty graduates from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in history on Saturday. He’s distinguished himself outside the classroom during his four years on Grounds, too, and Doherty showed again Thursday why he’s such a valuable member of UVA’s baseball team.
On a night when Virginia ace Connor Jones uncharacteristically labored, Doherty delivered a stellar performance out of the bullpen. Doherty entered the game at the start of the sixth inning, with eighth-ranked UVA leading Virginia Tech by a single run, and went the rest of the way.
Doherty, a 6-0, 195-pound left-hander, retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced. He allowed one hit in four scoreless innings, helping the Cavaliers secure an 8-3 win over the Hokies at Davenport Field.
“That’s pretty darn good,” Jones said. “I was super proud of him. He totally picked me up today, as well as the whole team.”
In 2015, Doherty’s postseason heroics helped the Wahoos win their first NCAA title. He contributed as much with his bat as with his arm as a junior, hitting in 39 games, 30 of which he started in the outfield, and pitching in 29.
This season, Doherty has been used primarily on the mound. He’s had only 22 at-bats, but he’s made a team-high 25 pitching appearances — all out of the bullpen — and has a 1-1 record, with a 3.44 earned-run average. Opponents are hitting .235 against Doherty, a graduate of Good Counsel High in Maryland.
“We didn’t know how much he would swing the bat this year,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said Thursday night. “We knew we had a lot of young players that I thought had talent [at the plate], so that hasn’t materialized as much [for Doherty], but certainly tonight he showed his value to this team.”
When he took over for Jones, Doherty said later, he didn’t expect to still be on the mound at game’s end.
“Not at all,” Doherty said. “I thought I’d maybe go a couple innings and give it to [Tyler] Shambora, because he’s done a great job of late, and then hand it off to Tommy [Doyle] to close it down.
“But I was happy with how I felt. I was fully ready to keep continuing.”
In last year’s NCAA tournament, Doherty’s RBI double in the 11th inning put Virginia ahead to stay against Southern California in the championship game of the Lake Elsinore (Calif.) regional.
The next weekend, in the NCAA super regional at Davenport Field, Doherty had a three-run double with two outs in the eighth inning to help Virginia rally for a Game 1 win over Maryland.
“He delivered big time for us last year in the postseason,” O’Connor said, “and that comes from experience. He’s 22 years old, he’s graduating this year, he’s got really good poise out there. Bringing him into a 4-3 game against your rival, here at home where every game matters, doesn’t shake that kid, and that’s why I had the confidence to go to him today, and we’ll have the confidence in the stretch run to go to him as well.”
Game 2 of this series is set for Friday at 1 p.m., and junior right-hander Alec Bettinger (2-4, 5.16 ERA) will start for Virginia (34-18 overall, 17-11 ACC). A victory would clinch a fifth straight ACC series win for the Cavaliers.
The `Hoos never trailed in the series opener, but they didn’t break the game open until the sixth. After a solo home run by freshman Cameron Simmons put Virginia up 5-3, junior Matt Thaiss followed three batters later with a towering two-run blast to right field.
Thaiss, an All-America catcher, leads the team with nine homers this season, and his latest was measured at 424 feet.
“That’s a long way,” Jones said, smiling
Thaiss also had a two-run double in the second inning. He finished with three hits. The Cavaliers’ leadoff man, sophomore Ernie Clement, went 4 for 5, with a triple.
Clement leads the Cavaliers with 81 hits this season. Thaiss, with 75 hits, isn’t far behind, and he has a team-high 52 RBI.
Jones said he had a good view of Thaiss’ home run, but not “for long, as it was out of the stadium in about one second. That ball was annihilated. He never ceases to amaze with the bat. That was impressive. I’ve only seen a couple clear the bleachers like that, and that was one of them.”
A junior right-hander from Chesapeake, Jones entered this series having thrown complete games in three of his previous five starts. He retired the Hokies (19-34, 6-22) in order in the first, inducing three groundouts, but struggled to regain his rhythm in the innings that followed.
“Obviously he didn’t have his best stuff today,” Thaiss said.
Jones was more blunt. “I wasn’t very good tonight at all,” he said.
For only the second time this season, Jones (11-1, 2.05 ERA) failed to last more than five innings. He threw two wild pitches, walked five batters, allowed three runs (two earned) and surrendered five hits. But Jones, who collected the victory, battled throughout and quelled Virginia Tech threats in the third and fourth.
“We learned tonight he’s not perfect, and this game is tough,” O’Connor said. “But I’m as proud of him tonight as I have been with any of those complete games he’s thrown, because he clearly did not have his command and his best stuff, but he grinded and he gave us five innings and left the game winning the ballgame. And that was what was impressive to me. It would have been very easy for the young man to throw his hands up and say, `Jeez, it’s not my day.’ He didn’t, and his best inning happened to be his last one.”
In the third inning, Jones threw 40 pitches, raising his total for the game to 79. By the end of the fourth, he was up to 103.
“I tried to get through five [innings],” Jones said. “I wasn’t sure after the fourth if I’d be able to do it, but fortunately enough I was.
“Tonight was weird. I was off, I was not good, and I’m looking forward to getting back and working hard and turning it around for next week [in the ACC tournament].”