When Kenny Towns stepped to the plate with one out in the fourth inning on Saturday night, recent history was hardly on his side.
Up to that point of the Charlottesville Regional, Virginia batters were a dwindling 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Towns had the majority of the Davenport Field crowd of 4,434 behind him, but he had Nick Howard taking a lead at third base.
In the 2013 postseason, this was not the Cavaliers’ favorite spot.
But that was before Towns turned on a 2-1 fastball from the left hand of Elon’s Spencer Medick.
The baseball landed deep in the left field corner. Howard scored. Towns had a double.
The Wahoos gained some sense of relief.
It was another pitcher-dominated, offensively challenged NCAA Tournament game in Charlottesville, but UVa survived again.
Behind Scott Silverstein and a precious few timely hits, Virginia escaped the Phoenix, 2-0.
The Cavs now await the winner of today’s 1 p.m. Elon-UNC Wilmington contest for a 6 p.m. regional title game.
“You wish things would come a little bit easier,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, “but it’s amazing this time of the year, during championship baseball, it doesn’t come easy. You got to earn it and you got to hang in there.
“I’m just really, really proud of our team.”
The nine innings played out nearly identical to the 2-1 victory over Army the Wahoos posted over 24 hours earlier.
Instead of Brandon Waddell, Virginia threw Silverstein. Instead of Army’s Chris Rowley, Elon had Medick.
The two dueled and dueled, stranding base runners without hardly breaking sweats.
UVa left 10 on. Elon left 10 on.
Silverstein’s toughest moment came in the fifth inning. With one out and the Phoenix’s Quinn Bower at first, Silverstein got Niko Fraser to ground to second base for what appeared to have all the makings of a textbook 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.
But the ball squirted between Reed Gragnani’s legs.
Bower advanced to third. Fraser got to second.
Silverstein, a fifth-year senior making his first NCAA Tournament start, had to face the dangerous Ryan Kinsella (20 home runs, 76 RBI) next. He struck out.
Then came Sebastian Gomez (.326 batting average). He lined out to Gragnani.
“Reed’s been there all year and I know he’ll continue to make plays,” Silverstein said. “He’s picked me up multiple times, so I guess it was my turn to pick him up.
“I was able to throw a couple of pitches for strikes and keep them off-balance. Luckily, it went our way.”
Silverstein (10-1) worked six innings, scattering six hits and striking out six. Hitting against the left-hander, Elon was 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
“Silverstein was unbelievable,” said Phoenix coach Mike Kennedy. “ ... We’d get guys on base and he was like a different guy. He would just bear down and make pitch after pitch.”
Medick, a Woodberry Forest product, threw a complete game, allowing nine hits.
Against the senior with runners in scoring position, Virginia was 3-for-10.
Towns happened to come through with a rare clutch knock in the fourth.
“All I had to do was hit a sac fly,” Towns said. “I was fortunate to come out with a double.”
Nate Irving followed with an RBI single to score Towns.
Virginia wouldn’t touch home plate again.
But it didn’t need to.
From the bullpen, O’Connor called on Josh Sborz for the seventh and Kyle Crockett for the eight and the ninth.
They were equally brilliant. Crockett picked up his 12th save by striking out the side in the ninth for a second straight night.
An offensive club all season, Virginia is one win away from the Super Regional because of its domination in other areas.
“We just have to hang in there,” O’Connor said. “The sign of a really good ballclub is one that finds a way to win in different ways.”
Whit Mayberry (4-0) will start tonight.