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May 10, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — When his schedule permits, Jacob Murdock, a Marine stationed in Washington, D.C., makes it down to Davenport Field to see his twin brother pitch for the University of Virginia baseball team.

Jacob was in the stands on March 4, in fact, when Noah Murdock, a 6-8 right-hander, made his first start as a Cavalier, against Niagara.

“Which wasn’t really a good game for him to come to,” Noah recalled with a laugh.

On that afternoon, Noah recorded only one out before being pulled. He gave up three hits, walked two batters, struck out none and allowed four runs, all earned, in a game Virginia ended up losing 8-5.

“I’ve learned a lot since then,” Murdock said.

The numbers reflect his growth. Murdock, a freshman, is now a member of the Cavaliers’ weekend rotation, and he hasn’t allowed a run since April 8, a stretch of 19.1 innings. He’s improved his record to 3-1 and lowered his earned-run average — which stood at 18.00 after the Niagara game — to 2.50.

“I’ve been so proud of Noah,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He went to both Virginia Tech and Florida State and pitched great baseball. One’s your rival, and the other one’s arguably the most difficult place in our league to go pitch at, and he handled both of those situations well. So I’ve just been so impressed with the poise that he’s shown in those starts and excited about what he can do for us the rest of the year and the rest of his future.”

Early in the season, Murdock said, “I kind of came in with my high school mentality of, `I can blow pitches by [batters] and my breaking stuff’s good and they can’t hit it.’ But that’s just not the case at the collegiate level. Everybody on the team was their high school’s best player, and they’re hard to get out.

“My last couple outings, if you look at the strikeout totals, they’re very low, and I’m just getting outs any way I can instead of just going for the strikeout.”

Murdock, whose fraternal twin stands 6-2, is from Colonial Heights, a city about 25 miles south of Richmond. At Colonial Heights High School, Noah played baseball, basketball and volleyball.

O’Connor and his assistant coaches like to recruit multi-sport athletes, who abound on the Cavaliers’ roster, but Murdock is the only player on the team with an extensive background in volleyball.

As a senior, he was named Virginia’s 4A player of the year in that sport after leading the Colonials to the state title. The skills that made Murdock a force on the volleyball court are valuable on the diamond, too.

“I have a pretty good amount of jumping ability,” Murdock said, “and I think the power in my legs helps me on the mound and keeps my feet under me. Even spiking a volleyball, having an arm motion like that, helps a lot. I’ve had a lot of pitching coaches that told me, `When you’re on the mound, pretend that you’re spiking a volleyball.’ “

Final exams end this week at the University, and the 10th-ranked Wahoos (36-11, 14-10) will host ACC rival Miami (24-23, 12-11) in a three-game series at Davenport Field this weekend.

The teams are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday. The Cavaliers haven’t played since May 2, when they defeated Liberty in Charlottesville.

“I think the biggest challenge is making sure that we come out against Miami with intentions to win and don’t let this break affect us,” Murdock said.

Fans at Davenport Field will have no difficulty picking out Murdock, the tallest Cavalier. O’Connor, who was a standout pitcher at Creighton, said Murdock’s height is an asset on the mound.

“You would love to have these tall, big, physical pitchers on your pitching staff,” O’Connor said. “Certainly it makes a difference, because when you’re [6-8], you’re throwing with a downward angle, and you can do some things with the ball that maybe a 6-foot pitcher can’t. And so I think from a leverage standpoint there’s a real advantage to being that height, and he uses that very well. He’s really athletic.”

Murdock committed to UVA as a 10th-grader. He later received interest from volleyball programs and could have pursued that sport, but baseball was always his college preference.

In travel ball, Murdock played for the Virginia Cardinals, whose other alumni include Derek Casey, Chesdin Harrington and Cayman Richardson, now his teammates at UVA. To be reunited with them in Charlottesville, Murdock said, “is awesome.”

During his four years on the Colonial Heights varsity, Murdock posted a record of 26-6, with a 2.70 ERA. In last year’s MLB draft, the Washington Nationals selected him in the 38th round. He would have been drafted earlier had he not made it known that he intended to play college baseball.

“Picking the mind of [UVA] pitching coach Karl Kuhn,” Murdock said, convinced him that college was the correct path for him to take.

“He’s amazing,” Murdock said of Kuhn. “I learned more in the first two or three weeks that I was here than I ever knew about baseball, and I think that was ultimately what I was hoping to get out of the program in coming here. And with two or three more years of eligibility, I think there’s a lot more learning to do, and I can be a better pitcher.”

Adding strength should help. Murdock weighed 170 pounds when he arrived at UVA last year. “I was pretty light — pretty much a toothpick, which I still am — but I’m about 180, 182 right now, so I’ve definitely put on some muscle,” he said.

An elbow injury limited Murdock’s workload in the fall, and he was behind the Cavaliers’ other pitchers heading into the new year.

“It took him about half the year to really start to put it all together, and he’s just been tremendous for us,” O’Connor said. “He’s really solidified things for us in that rotation. He’s been just very, very consistent for us.”

In 36 innings, Murdock has struck out 21 and walked 18. He’s given up 25 hits.

“He’s a difficult guy to pick up the ball off of, he’s a difficult guy to square up,” O’Connor said. “Certainly he’s got some walks in there, but he’s shown that he’s got something special inside him [and] can make big, clutch pitches at important times.”

His injury set him back, Murdock said, “but I knew that if I kept up with the work and did the things I was supposed to do, I was going to be given an opportunity no matter when I started, and I got it pretty early with a couple bullpen appearances, and now the [weekend] rotation. I can’t thank [the coaches] enough for the opportunity they’ve given me now.”

His development has impressed Murdock’s teammates. Murdock’s emergence as a formidable weekend starter has “been huge for us,” catcher Caleb Knight said, “to know that he’s going to get out there and we’re going to get a consistent start.”

In the fall, when Murdock found himself in troublesome situations, “he really would kind of struggle getting out of them,” Knight said. “But he matured so much over the winter break [and this spring], and it’s paying off when he gets in those situations, how he’s able to pitch out of them.”

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