OMAHA, Neb. — As Mike Papi was working his six pitch at-bat against Aaron Greenwood, Brian O’Connor wasn’t pacing the dugout. He wasn’t covering his eyes to screen the scene.
No, with a College World Series game on the line, the Virginia coach was relaxed and breathing easy.
“[I was] pretty calm and confident,” O’Connor said.
Sure he was. Papi was at the plate.
As he’s done with regularity over the course of his UVa career, Papi produced another memory for Wahoo fans on Sunday night, coming through with a walk-off RBI double to give the Cavaliers a 2-1 win over Ole Miss and advancing them to the winners’ bracket of this prestigious eight-team tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.
“Every walk-off is special,” Papi said. “I’m speechless.”
Virginia (50-14) will take on TCU (48-16) at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Papi was the hero against the Rebels (46-20), but more exceptional UVa pitching triggered the Cavs’ sixth victory in seven NCAA Tournament games.
Starter Nathan Kirby and reliever Artie Lewicki combined on the first CWS one-hitter since 1983 and only the fourth since the start of aluminum bats in 1974.
But this gem came against the SEC’s top-hitting club, a group that rocked Louisiana-Lafayette for 10 runs in last week’s Super Regional-clincher.
“Kirby was tremendous,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. “And we just could not solve [him], could not catch up to his fastball.”
Kirby went seven innings, allowing just a third inning single to Errol Robinson. The All-American left-hander struck out four batters and walked three others. He faced 24 Rebels. Only three lifted baseballs to the outfield.
“My plan was just to make them beat me,” Kirby said. “And I thought I did a good job in that.”
At 73 pitches, Kirby, with a 1-0 lead, came out for the eighth inning. He issued consecutive walks before O’Connor ended the star sophomore’s night.
For a second straight week, Lewicki emerged from the bullpen and produced another stellar outing.
The senior right-hander, with nine starts to his name this season, threw a scoreless two innings, upping his record to 7-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.56.
He’s yet to allow a run in this NCAA Tournament, a span of 12 1/3 innings.
“At this point, you do whatever you have to do to win ballgames,” Lewicki said. “And [if] Coach is going to send me out there, I’m going to try to go out and do my best and try to collect outs and throw strikes.”
Ole Miss earned its only run of the evening in the eighth inning when pinch-hitter Holt Perdzock had an RBI groundout.
That knotted the game at 1, a score that helped define a true mound duel.
Rebels starter Chris Ellis, a third round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, allowed one run on six hits in six innings.
The righty stranded eight Cavs on the base paths.
“He did a good job of mixing up his pitches,” said UVa’s Joe McCarthy, a right fielder who gave the ‘Hoos a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning with an RBI single. “He was going in and out, keeping us off-balance. We just weren’t able to get that big hit off him.”
But Ellis eventually exited. And Greenwood eventually came in.
Cue more Papi dramatics.
Nate Irving led off the ninth inning with a walk. The catcher was then pinch-run for by junior walk-on Thomas Woodruff.
Woodruff got to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Branden Cogswell. From that position, he watched Daniel Pinero strike out.
Then Papi strolled in to face Greenwood, a 28th round selection of the Houston Astros with a 1.69 ERA.
“I was looking for a pitch in the middle of the plate,” Papi said, “something I could cut in half and line to the outfield somewhere.”
On pitch No. 6, the junior got it — and looped it to deep right-center, bouncing on the warning track in this spacious stadium.
“I was just hoping and praying it was going to fall somewhere out there in this cavernous park,” Papi said.
Papi had a walk-off single against William & Mary on Feb. 22, 2012, his first home game as Cavalier. On April 6, 2013, he blasted a ninth inning grand slam at Wake Forest to rally the ‘Hoos to a 7-6 win. Over a month later, he went up against the left field wall in North Carolina to spark a thrilling game-ending double play.
Now add an Omaha jam to Mike Papi’s growing list of greatest hits.
“You don’t know what to say,” Papi said, “but having done it in the College World Series makes it even that much better.”