LYNCHBURG — Josh Sborz looked like a veteran starter. Nathan Kirby mixed his signature fastballs with nasty sliders. Austin Young was Austin Young. Kyle Crockett was Kyle Crockett.
On a rare night when the lethal Virginia offense struggled, the Cavaliers got plenty from their pitching staff.
A four-man Wahoo combination limited Liberty to one hit in a 2-0 win before 2,543 at Liberty Baseball Stadium on Tuesday.
“Our pitching staff was really tremendous tonight,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “I thought Josh Sborz went out and attacked the mound, did a great job. That was Nathan Kirby’s best outing of the year. We’re certainly going to need those guys down the stretch.
“Obviously, Young and Crockett did what they’ve been doing. To come out here on the road, to get a one-hitter is something that’s really impressive.”
The Cavs, ranked as high as fourth in the national polls, improved to 26-3. The shutout part of the victory wasn’t completely out of the norm (their seventh of the season). The fact that they relied heavily on the posted goose eggs was the surprising part.
Virginia entered Tuesday batting .315 and averaging over eight runs a game. It rattled the Flames for seven runs on eight hits in a 7-2 win on March 13 at Davenport Field.
But the rematch created a different kind of result.
Liberty (17-12) trotted out its normal setup man (Josh Richardson) for its starter and got five innings out of its everyday closer (Ashton Perritt).
The two effectively shutdown a UVa lineup to the tune of just three hits. The two runs came in the first inning when Kenny Towns was hit by a Richardson pitch with the bases loaded and Nick Howard followed up with an infield RBI single.
“Sometimes, good teams find a way to win,” O’Connor said. “To only have three hits on the board, I thought we squared the ball up really good at times. It shows to the high quality of pitching that Liberty had today.”
But Virginia had a better brand.
Sborz, a freshman making just his second career start, went a career-high four innings. He allowed the Flames’ only hit (a Trey Wimmer double to lead-off the second), but struck out a career-high five and walked none.
The right-hander, working a filthy breaking ball, threw 43 of his 63 pitches for strikes.
“I just knew I had to set a tone,” Sborz said. “I knew I had a great bullpen behind me and a great defense behind me. I just tried to throw strikes the best I could.”
Apparently, Kirby had the same mindset.
Another rookie, the fire-balling lefty struck out five of the first six batters he faced. Kirby got into a healthy rhythm of sizzling a first-pitch fastball on the black (reaching up to 94 mph) and then toying batters with wicked off-speed stuff.
He finished with six K’s in 3 1/3 innings.
“The slider was good,” Kirby said, “but I think having them 0-2 more times than not put all the pressure on them. I didn’t necessarily have to throw in the zone to get them out because they didn’t know it was coming. They kind of guessed a lot at the last pitch. You saw them swing at a couple bad balls.”
Kirby was the only UVa pitcher to feel threatened in the later innings. With one out in the seventh, the Midlothian native fielded a Wimmer grounder, but overshot Jared King with his throw. Wimmer got to second, but was eventually left stranded after Kirby got Ryan Cordell and Danny Grauer to fly out.
Crockett followed Young’s perfect two-thirds of the eighth with a perfect ninth to put the finishing touches on a spectacular performance.
All in all, Virginia pitchers struck out 14 batters and didn’t issue a walk.
“Their pitchers were tremendous,” said Liberty coach Jim Toman.
UVa hosts VMI at 6 p.m., tonight.