The wild finish to Virginia’s 9-7 win at Wake Forest on Monday night was a fitting end to a roller coaster week in Cavalier baseball.
There was a 2-0, one-hitter victory over Liberty on Tuesday followed by an 8-6 win over VMI on Wednesday that got tight in the late innings. The Saturday-Sunday sweep of the Demon Deacons needed home run heroics from Mike Papi in game one and Reed Gragnani in game two. The Monday finale was a lesson in hanging on.
Yet, entering tonight’s 6 p.m. home date with Radford, the Wahoos are 30-3 and ranked no lower than fifth in the national polls.
Take a bow, Kyle Crockett.
This past week might have seen loose ends in a lot of areas, but the UVa closer glued it all together. Crockett is the first pitcher in program history to earn saves in five consecutive games.
“He has been unbelievable,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “He’s been really, really good for us. He’s throwing strikes with really great stuff. Certainly, he’s doing the job for us at the end of the game. In this league, that’s what you need. You need somebody like that.”
Crockett, a junior left-hander, has thrown 116 2/3 innings in his college career. All but 13 of them have come out of the bullpen. He’s played the middle relief part and he’s been the setup man. But closer was never a part of his résumé until the season.
“Certainly it would be easy to run him out there as a starter, but he’s pitched in a relief role for a couple of years,” O’Connor said. “The guy toed the rubber in Omaha in the College World Series and shut down South Carolina for four or five innings in a must-win game for us a couple of years ago.
“I think he’s just got ice in his veins. He’s got the ability to make big pitches.”
Crockett came on Monday with one out in the ninth inning and the tying run at the plate.
The Demon Deacons had cut a 9-3 UVa lead down to 9-7. In a season where the Cavs have remained steady throughout, they finally looked a bit rattled with the sudden shift in momentum.
But not Crockett. He faced two Wake batters. He got two outs. Game over.
“We love him,” said Virginia right fielder Joe McCarthy, who went 4-for-6 with a pair of home runs in the series finale. “So far he’s been lights out. We just hope he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s been doing.”
Crockett’s ERA is down to 0.73. He’s tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead with seven saves.
“It’s growing on me,” Crockett said of the closer’s role. “I did it a little bit in the summer. It’s nice. It’s a little different from what I did last year, but I have the same mentality when I go out there.”
This past week, he allowed one hit and recorded nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
More importantly, UVa went 5-0.
“He deserves a rest,” McCarthy said.
Derek Fisher returned to UVa’s lineup on Sunday after missing six games with a sprained ankle. The preseason All-American, playing as the designated hitter, went 0-for-5, but rebounded with a 2-for-4 performance on Monday.
O’Connor said Fisher will stay as the DH until he’s back to full health. Of course, the sophomore is the normal left fielder, a position Papi has played in his absence.
Papi, with a batting average of .435, is in the top 15 nationally in hitting.
“Papi’s doing a great job and we’ll just kind of take it day by day and see,” O’Connor said.
Virginia had to use extra inning to beat the Highlanders in 2012. Is a repeat situation in-store?
Radford (19-11) is on a seven-game winning streak after a weekend sweep of Winthrop. It has two wins over No. 25 Campbell.
The Wahoos will be trying to extend their winning streak to six by wearing throwback uniforms as part of ‘80s Night at Davenport Field.