Derek Fisher jogged toward the dugout with a visible grin creeping out from under the brim of his helmet. Before he could get to the first base-side cutout, Jared King reached out to the sophomore, grabbed him, lifted him and gave him a spin.
Not even 10 minutes earlier, both sides of this embrace were a combined 0-for-16 in the Charlottesville Regional. Now, they were directly responsible for sparking Virginia’s first true-to-form rally of the 2013 postseason.
The Cavaliers captured their fourth regional title in five years on Sunday night with an 11-3 thumping of Elon by giving the 3,792 in attendance at Davenport Field a healthy return to what they grew accustomed to watching this year.
The Wahoos mashed their way to win No. 50, using a familiar victory formula.
“A lot had been made of the first two ballgames,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor, “that they were won on pitching and defense. But tonight, certainly we continued to pitch and play good defense, but we had a tremendous offensive day.”
Try 11 runs, 14 hits.
UVa came to its half of the third inning in a 3-0 hole. Elon had momentum stemming from the 6-4 come-from-behind win it posted over UNC Wilmington earlier in the afternoon. The Phoenix had already run UVa starter Whit Mayberry and it was going to be up to its own hurler, righty Nate Young, to continue the hushing of Virginia’s once-potent lineup.
The Cavs entered this weekend third in the nation in runs scored. Yet, they had crossed home plate all of four times in two games.
But then the giant woke up.
Nate Irving led off the third with a double. Two batters later, King had his own double, a run-scoring shot down the left field line.
And they were off.
By the time Irving, up again, grounded out to short to end the frame, UVa had put across six runs on five hits.
Fisher, 0-for-23 to that point of his NCAA Tournament career, got the biggest ovation with a two-run single to right. That tied things at 3, forcing Elon coach Mike Kennedy to pull Young.
The Wahoos getting into the opposing bullpen before Davenport needed to turn its lights on?
Virginia baseball — and one of its top sluggers — was back.
“It was a situation I had been in virtually all weekend,” said Fisher, who got a hug from King as he left the basepaths to get a look at Young’s replacement. “I was up with runners in scoring position I couldn’t tell you how many times. But to actually come through in the clutch for our club at that one time ... I got a good pitch to hit and fortunately it went through.”
Stars came from everywhere in the lineup. Nick Howard went 4-for-5 with two RBI. King was 2-for-5 with an RBI. Brandon Downes went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Fisher was 2-for-5 with three RBI. Kenny Towns had three RBI.
It was the usual collective offensive effort that got backed by more Virginia bullpen dominance.
Freshman David Rosenberger relieved Mayberry by going five innings, giving up just two hits and facing the minimum of 15 batters.
The effort combined with the work of Kyle Crockett, the Charlottesville Regional Most Outstanding Player, from the tournament’s first two nights has O’Connor feeling mighty confident as this quest for Omaha continues.
“Our starters have done a really nice job all year long,” O’Connor said, “but, from a pitching standpoint, the bullpen has been what has really driven us to have the kind of record that we have had. It’s going to continue to have to be that way. We’re going to need to get solid starts to keep us in the ballgame, in the first half of the ballgame, and then our bullpen’s going to have to do the job.”
Another rookie, Josh Sborz, closed out the Phoenix in the ninth, prompting a celebration and turning thoughts to the next goal.
Virginia (50-10) will host the Starkville Regional winner in the Super Regional.
“We’re looking forward to baseball here in Charlottesville next weekend,” O’Connor said.
Crockett was joined by Irving, Howard, Towns, Joe McCarthy and Scott Silverstein on the all-tournament team.