Virginia’s Joe McCarthy, a lefty, was at the plate. He had worked to a 3-2 count against VMI’s Lucas Cash. The Cavaliers had runners at first and second.
From the dugout, Brian O’Connor still signaled to send Branden Cogswell and Jared King in motion on the upcoming full count pitch despite Keydet catcher Matt Winn having a clear shot to nab Cogswell at third.
It was a risky move. A baseball no-no, almost.
But the UVa coach did it for one simple reason.
“You know the majority of the time, Joe’s going to put the ball in play,” O’Connor said.
Sure enough, McCarthy took Cash to left field for a single.
That scene played out in the first inning of Virginia’s 8-6 win on Wednesday at Davenport Field.
But you might as well expect it to repeat itself for at least the next three seasons.
O’Connor has found his most trusted bat in the lineup. He’s a freshman former high school football star.
Entering today’s 4 p.m. first pitch at Wake Forest, McCarthy has an on-base streak of 30 games.
The No. 4 Cavaliers are 27-3.
“No, I am not,” McCarthy said when asked if he was aware he’d reached base in every game of his college career.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound right fielder has done it in a variety of ways. He’s batting .311. He’s second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and fifth in the nation with 31 walks. He’s been hit by three pitches.
“It’s really just going up to the plate and not trying to do too much,” McCarthy said, “being patient, having a good approach and just using the field.
“That’s been successful so far.”
Of course, all the rookie knows is success.
At Scranton High School in Pennsylvania, McCarthy was a three-spot standout. He was the center, and self-labeled “enforcer,” on a district title-winning basketball team. He rushed for over 2,200 yards and passed for another 1,600 as an all-region quarterback/running back.
Sure, McCarthy was also a .500 hitter on the baseball team, but O’Connor liked the grit he had developed in the other arenas.
“Joe was a very successful football player, which I love because I think there’s a mentality that comes with playing the sport of football,” O’Connor said. “I’ve told everybody all along, ‘If there’s two players out there that are of equal ability and one played high school football and one didn’t, I’ll choose the one that played high school football all the time.’
“Joe’s a competitor. He was very, very successful in the Scranton area in all of his sports. That competitiveness shows through in his play on the baseball field.”
McCarthy said college football programs approached him early on, but they never came with scholarship offers once he made it clear his future was to be in baseball, the sport his father played at South Carolina.
“It was definitely in the back of my mind, but baseball’s always been something that I wanted to do,” he said.
But it didn’t make this past fall a normal experience.
Not only was McCarthy in college, it was October and he was lacing up his spikes, not cleats.
“It was definitely different,” he said. “I’ve never played baseball in the winter before, or the fall.”
To make up for his football withdraw, he’s simply transferred the gridiron attitude to the diamond.
“I notice it when he takes pitches — the ones that hit him,” said King, a senior first baseman. “He’s not too scared to just wear one for us.
“It definitely shows through.”
King, in the No. 2 spot, bats in front of McCarthy in the lineup. He said it’s the first-year’s patience that makes him a consistent difficult out.
“What I’m most impressed with is his plate discipline,” King said. “I’ll watch some of his at-bats sometimes and he just never really seems to stretch the zone. Seeing a guy like that with that much discipline, and he really knows what to do up there, it’s really impressive.”
McCarthy is still 14 games shy of setting Virginia’s all-time record for consecutive games reaching base.
Until then, he’ll just continue to play like a veteran.
“He’s just a really good, confident hitter that has a very advanced approach for his age,” O’Connor said.