When Brandon Waddell throws the first Virginia pitch of Saturday’s series opener at Wake Forest, the week of youth will be nearly complete.
Three games, five days, three freshmen starters.
Through two such experiences, the rookie Cavaliers have gotten by — in spectacular fashion on Tuesday, in shaky but winning fashion on Wednesday.
A night after Josh Sborz spearheaded a one-hitter at Liberty, Trey Oest had his ups and downs in an 8-6 Wahoo win over VMI before 2,745 at Davenport Field.
“Coming into the season, we knew the contributions those freshmen pitchers were going to have to make,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “They are certainly doing that. Sborz and [Nathan] Kirby were great yesterday, Trey got us off to a really good start today, Waddell will start on Saturday.
“Certainly, they need to make serious contributions and they are. Hopefully, they continue to get better and improve as we move along.”
Oest improved to 5-0, but had his ERA bump up to 2.53 after a roller coaster ride of 5 1/3 innings. The outing began with consecutive strikeouts, but ended with back-to-back singles.
In between, there was a home run, but also a stretch of nine straight retired.
“I was in and out of grooves throughout the game,” Oest said. “It was just hard to stay within that groove.”
Oest gave up five runs on seven hits, but did register seven K’s and issued just one walk.
“It’s definitely a learning curve,” he said, “and something you just have to get over and move on from and just take that into your next start and learn from it.”
The righty’s book was closed in the sixth after VMI cut a 6-3 UVa lead down to 6-5.
Whit Mayberry, Austin Young and Kyle Crockett handled things from there, dropping the bullpen’s season ERA down to 1.78.
In their last 44 innings, the Virginia relievers have allowed all of two earned runs.
“The bullpen’s been phenomenal this year,” Oest said. “They’re always on the call and they always seem to be ready to do their job. It’s just great.”
On Tuesday, the staff had to post zeroes because the Wahoo offense was barely posting better.
Virginia had just three hits against Liberty. It topped that total in the first inning against VMI (14-18).
In total, the No. 4 Cavaliers (27-3) recorded 13 hits, including three from Nick Howard and two apiece from Brandon Downes, Joe McCarthy and Kenny Towns.
Jared King had a key two-out RBI double in the sixth to extend UVa’s lead to 7-5.
Downes got his team-best 30th RBI of the season with a clutch two-out single in the eighth to make the 8-6 result.
“That’s, a lot of times, what it comes down to,” O’Connor said. “You look at the scoreboard and we had 13 hits. You can get a lot of hits, but it comes down to having clutch hits. That’s what wins ballgames.”
That and, in this 2013 UVa season, impressive rookie pitching.
In Tuesday and Wednesday victories, the staff combined for 26 strikeouts to just one walk. The freshmen — Sborz, Kirby, Oest — had 18 K’s.
“They’ve just done a tremendous job all season,” King said. “We knew we were going to have to rely on them this year, but every time their number’s been called this year, they’ve come through with flying colors — and that’s great to see.”
Waddell (2-0, 3.11 ERA), you’re next.
“We have unbelievable talent in this class,” Waddell said. “All the guys coming in really knew what it took to kind of get out there. We all want to step up and do what we can.
“We’re all working hard, really trying to get it done.”