Kirby wins Pitcher of the Year as UVa racks up awards - Cavalier Insider: Cavalier Insider

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kirby wins Pitcher of the Year as UVa racks up awards

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Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014 7:41 pm | Updated: 1:53 pm, Tue May 20, 2014.

In the 2013 ACC Tournament, Virginia used eight different pitchers before it got to Nathan Kirby.

The freshman took his heavy ERA to the mound at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in the sixth inning of UVa’s third and final game of the week.

Kirby faced two Florida State batters before his afternoon was done.

His line of one hit and no strikeouts in one-third of an inning was an afterthought in what would be a dramatic 7-4 walk-off win. 

A year later, Kirby isn’t expected to deliver such a quiet performance when the Wahoos try for their third league crown since 2009.

The sophomore ace is going to have a significant left hand in determining Virginia’s success in this week’s ACC Tournament. 

A late bullpen call no more, Kirby is the 2014 ACC co-Pitcher of the Year, sharing the honor with Miami's Chris Diaz.

The announcement came Monday afternoon, capping off an incredible comeback regular season.

Kirby has gone from 4-1 with a 6.06 ERA as a rookie to 8-1 with a league-best 1.58 ERA as a second-year. 

He gives a hat tip in his coaches’ direction for the turnaround.

“Oak’s been there to give me hints of advice here and there,” Kirby said Monday morning at Davenport Field, “but Karl’s been the one that’s broken me down and has built me back up and stayed with me through thick and thin.”

“Oak” is Brian O’Connor, UVa’s 11th-year skipper who added to his trophy case Monday.

The 43-year-old is the ACC Coach of the Year for the second straight season and fifth time in his career.

“Karl” is Karl Kuhn, UVa’s 11th-year pitching coach who could add another line to his résumé Monday.

Courtesy of Kirby, Nick Howard and Brandon Waddell, Kuhn has now had at least one staff member make an All-ACC team in each of his seasons in Charlottesville.

Howard, who is two saves away from holding the league record for most in a season, made the first team as a utility player. Waddell, who’s had a solid 7-3, 2.90 ERA sophomore campaign, made the third team.

Consider it a team achievement for a group of arms that boasts an ACC-best 2.24 ERA.

“We’re very, very fortunate to have great starting pitching and a terrific bullpen,” O’Connor said.

The rest of the squad isn’t bad, either.

Virginia, which held Baseball America’s No. 1 national ranking for nine of 15 weeks during the regular season, earned five first team All-ACC selections, good for most in the league.

Joining Kirby and Howard were first baseman Mike Papi, second baseman Branden Cogswell and right fielder Joe McCarthy.

Papi, last year’s ACC batting champ, took league home run and co-RBI titles in 2014. 

“He’s done a nice job,” O’Connor said of Papi, who is batting .299 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI. “He’s bounced between hitting in the middle of the order for us and also leading off. I’m sure there’s a lot of teams that would like to have a leadoff hitter that’s got 10 home runs and leading them in RBI. He’s got a chance to impact the game right off the bat for us. 

“I think he has a really mature approach and he’s really grown throughout this year.”

Cogswell, a second team honoree last season, is batting .291 while also combining with flashy freshman shortstop Daniel Pinero as one of the nation’s top double play units. 

The junior has committed only two errors.

McCarthy, the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year, leads the Cavaliers with a .308 batting average. He’s second to Papi with five home runs and 41 RBI.

“At the beginning of the season, I felt like I wasn’t playing up to my potential, maybe putting a little too much pressure on myself,” said McCarthy, who was batting .265 on March 27. “But I just got back in the swing of the things, tried not to do too much at the plate, really started working the opposite field at the plate. I felt like I really started to hit the ball in the latter half of the year.”

Pinero, with a .268 batting average and .972 fielding percentage, made third team All-ACC, joining junior catcher Nate Irving, a .269 batter and manager of one of the country’s top staffs.

He’s had the privilege of catching Kirby on 13 occasions. The Wahoos went 11-2 in those games.

“Nathan Kirby is in the conversation for conference pitcher of the year because he’s earned it,” O’Connor said. “He’s been as consistent as you can be all year long as the Friday night starter.”

Third-seeded UVa (43-11) begins ACC Tournament play Thursday against sixth-seeded Maryland (34-19). First pitch from Greensboro, N.C.’s NewBridge Bank Park is set for 11 a.m. 

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