Brandon Waddell, who has quietly turned into Virginia’s best starting pitcher not named Nathan Kirby, seemed to have things on cruise control Sunday when he entered the seventh inning.
Against 14th-ranked Clemson, the sophomore left-hander needed five pitches to get through the fourth inning, seven to get through the fifth and nine to get through the sixth.
The performance had all the makings to rival his gem from a week earlier — a career-high eight-inning blanking of Pittsburgh.
But in a 1-0 game, Brian O’Connor wasn’t taking any chances. The 11th-year UVa coach pulled Waddell at his first sign of struggle in the seventh — a one-out single from the Tigers’ Jay Baum.
“Most people would stick with Brandon Waddell, runner on first, seventh inning, he’s pitching great, he’s been very efficient, let’s keep him out there,” O’Connor admitted. “But when you have those guys down in the bullpen that have proven time and time again that they can do the job, it’s a lot easier to go to them.”
Cue Whit Mayberry, and No. 1 Virginia successfully held another lead on its way to another win, its 30th in 36 chances this season.
In his four-plus years in Charlottesville, Mayberry has been everything from weekend starter to emergency mid-week starter to bullpen ace. He’s thrown in the College World Series, he’s had Tommy John surgery.
Mayberry has made 74 appearances in his career, placing eighth in UVa history.
With this weekend providing a prime example, O’Connor, when in doubt, is quick to lean on Mayberry’s valuable experience.
“He’s pitched a lot of innings for us,” O’Connor said Sunday. “He’s been in big situations. He’s got an ability to be able to wiggle out of stuff. Just like he did on Friday, he did it again today. He’s got multiple pitches he can throw for strikes on any count, and the stuff’s good.
“He’s just got great poise.”
In two appearances against Clemson, the best hitting team in the ACC, Mayberry worked a scoreless 3 2/3 innings, giving up two hits and stranding six runners. The Wahoos won both games by a run each.
Mayberry’s now 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. Opponents are batting all of .188 against him.
“I just want to win ballgames,” Mayberry said. “I’ll do whatever it takes. Obviously, you want to go 1-2-3 every inning, but you got to step it up when you have guys on base.
“I just try to rely on what Coach has told us through the years and try to keep to the fundamentals when you have these pressure situations.”
Virginia boasts one of the top pitching staffs in the country. Heading into tonight’s 6 o’clock home game against Radford (18-16), the Cavaliers have a team ERA of 2.06, good for first in the ACC and top 10 nationally.
The unquestioned captain of that group? A soft-spoken right-hander Waddell describes as “one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet.”
“We had a staff meeting early in the year and we kind of voted who was the guy that was going to lead our staff,” Waddell said. “Who was the guy that was going to go out there and be there day-in, day-out and work for us, not only by himself, but take the time to work with everybody?
“[Mayberry] was the guy. Unanimous vote, he was the guy. He was the guy last year, too. ... You know you can count on him. He’ll be there regardless of what it is.”
See a tight spot in the rubber match of an intense league series in front of close to 5,000 people at Davenport Field.
“[I was] unbelievably confident [in Mayberry],” Waddell said. “He’s one of our dominant guys. He’s been here quite a while. He’s a guy that when he comes in, you know it’s going to be shut down. He’s a guy that doesn’t have a bad day.
“We feel confident giving it to him.”
And nearing the end of his career, Mayberry’s thrilled to be playing such a role.
“I just enjoy every day, hanging out with these guys,” he said. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to get another year here. I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy every minute of it because, so far, it’s been an awesome ride.”