Two weeks after Derek Fisher sparked a legend with a home run that could very well still be rolling along Emmet Street, Brandon Downes did an impression of his fellow sophomore with a bleachers-clearing shot into left-center field.
Virginia’s lanky 6-foot-3, 190-pounder put a powerful charge into a 1-0 pitch from James Madison’s Trent Cundiff on April 24.
Unlike Fisher’s bomb against Radford, the Downes drive was caught by cameras as it drilled its way through the trees that separate Klöckner Stadium from Davenport Field.
“I don’t know,” Downes said when asked if that was the longest home run of his career. “I felt like I got all of it. I knew it when I hit it.”
Following a nine-day break for final exams, No. 7 UVa (39-8, 17-7 ACC) will get back to action on Friday when it hosts Duke (25-23, 9-15).
Downes, like he has all season, will be penciled in the No. 4 spot in the lineup.
The center fielder’s slugging presence has been felt for a team that’s third in the ACC in batting average, second in runs scored, second in RBI, third in doubles and first in triples.
With a team-best seven homers and 46 RBI, Downes has cleaned up pretty well.
“Brandon’s done a really nice job in that four-hole,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “It’s not an easy spot to hit in. Certainly, there’s a lot of pressure on you. He’s done some really great things.”
Like send a baseball into orbit against James Madison.
But Downes isn’t just about the tape-measure hits. In that game with the Dukes, he went 3-for-4, including a double and a triple, with three RBI.
The .316 batter leads the Wahoos in doubles (16), triples (six) and total bases (108).
Not bad for somebody who didn’t know his spot in the order until the season opener at East Carolina in mid-February.
“The first game I found out that I was batting fourth,” said Downes, who batted .321 out of, primarily, the seven-hole as a freshman. “I didn’t really know. Sometimes at practice, I would hit four.
“Just the first game, I knew I was going to get pitched really tough. I was going to have runners in scoring position. I was really trying to see everything up in the zone, just wanted to come through and be clutch for the team. It’s the best thing I could have done.”
Joe McCarthy, who had an on-base streak of 36 games this season, bats in front of Downes. Mike Papi, who’s in the top five in the ACC in batting average and slugging percentage, bats behind Downes.
The South Plainfield, N.J., native is thankful for his surroundings.
“If you’re in a little thing,” Downes said, “and you’re striking out a lot or whatever, you get down for a couple seconds and then you realize, ‘Oh, Derek Fisher’s behind me, Nick Howard’s behind me, Mike Papi.’ As soon as it ends, you’re like, ‘Man, I feel like I let the team down.’ But then we got all these guys behind me that can pick me up.
“It’s a good feeling.”
Following its exam break last season, UVa won five of its final seven games in the regular season.
The Wahoos have seven games remaining in the 2013 regular season.
Barring a collapse, they’ll likely host an NCAA Regional and could earn a national seed. Virginia is third in the latest RPI rankings.
Its home stretch looks like this:
- Friday-Sunday vs. Duke
- May 14 vs. VCU (23-23)
- May 16-18 at No. 1 North Carolina (42-4, 19-3)
“We take our finals, but we’re staying in shape and we’re still getting reps and we’re still having a couple practices here and there,” said UVa second baseman Reed Gragnani. “We stay in the flow of the game really well. We don’t look at it as time off. We’re just kind of resting our bodies a little bit, but our competitive edge is still there.”
Virginia last played on April 30 against VCU at The Diamond in Richmond.
Freshman Nate Kirby (3-1) took the win in the 11-3 result, but perhaps the most headline-grabbing Cavalier pitcher was the one O’Connor trotted out in the ninth inning.
Redshirt freshman side-armer Brett Lisle, all 6-9 of him, made his collegiate debut and worked a hitless final frame, including a game-ending double play.
“In our scrimmage games, he’s been throwing really well and throwing strikes,” O’Connor said. “It was the perfect chance to give him his first opportunity and I thought he did a good job.”