The ball sliced off Branden Cogswell's bat, and the traditional wall Virginia players form at the front of their dugout started to crumble quickly.
Nearly every single Cavalier jumped out of harm’s way — except Nate Irving.
He had protection.
Pad firmly on the junior catcher’s chest, Irving knocked Cogswell’s laced foul shot down, prompting cheers from teammates and maybe a sigh of relief from the batter.
UVa was in a frustrating scoreless tie with Old Dominion when Cogswell got back in the box in the sixth inning on Tuesday.
To that point, the Cavaliers had left eight runners on base. Cogswell was batting with Robbie Coman at third base and John La Prise at first. There were two outs.
He and the Cavaliers needed a sign a breakthrough was coming.
Perhaps Irving’s bravery provided it.
Virginia, ranked between first and third in the national polls, eventually rolled ODU, 7-1, before 3,422 spectators at Davenport Field.
All seven runs came after the scare in the home dugout.
“Yeah, that was a weird sequence of events,” La Prise said, “but luckily Cogswell could come back.”
Cogswell eventually drew a walk, and Daniel Pinero followed with a two-run single, opening the floodgates on a furious rally.
UVa (24-4) scored seven runs in the sixth inning runs on four hits. Brandon Downes had a two-run single. Joe McCarthy had a two-run double. Coman, the 10th batter of the frame, capped it all with a single to right to bring home McCarthy.
“Everybody was squaring it up, having good swings,” said La Prise, who went 3-for-4 with a double and run scored. “Coach [Brian O’Connor] said if you do the right things, it’ll eventually happen. So once we got to the middle of the game, guys started squaring up. Danny gets the clutch hit.
“We always knew that somebody would clutch up eventually.”
Cogswell went 3-for-4 to raise his average back to over .300. McCarthy, the reigning ACC co-Player of the Week, went 2-for-5.
The support – albeit tardy — gave Alec Bettinger the right to put his name on the winning side of the box score.
The freshman right-hander (3-0, 0.95 ERA) had a career day against what O’Connor called the “best opponent [Bettinger] has faced.” Old Dominion (16-12) entered Tuesday with an RPI of 40.
The outing continued Bettinger’s steady progress as a starter. On March 20 against Princeton, he lasted four innings (two runs, five hits). A week later, it was five scoreless innings against Longwood, with three hits. Tuesday, he scattered three hits, two strikeouts and a pair of walks across a career-long six shutout innings.
“My arm was the best it’s felt so far because I think I’ve just gotten used to throwing more and more,” Bettinger said. “It wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the year for me to be the midweek guy, but ever since Artie [Lewicki] went down, I just kind of had to pick it up.”
Lewicki, a senior right-hander pegged to fill Tuesday or Wednesday slots, went out with an oblique injury on Feb. 25 while warming up to face VMI.
He’s reappeared just once — a two-batter outing against Princeton.
O’Connor said Lewicki will start today when the Cavaliers host George Washington (7-17) at 5 p.m.
“I don’t know how long he’s going to pitch,” O’Connor said, “I don’t know what it’s going to look like. But we’re to the point now where we’ve got to run him out there and see what we’ve got.”
Which made Bettinger’s Tuesday performance even more crucial. The Woodbridge native went deep enough to save bullpen arms for the Colonials.
“It tests the depth of our pitching staff,” O’Connor said of the two-midweek-game schedule. “And it showed well tonight.”
Bettinger was never worried his career start would be ruined by an anemic offensive showing.
“I knew we’d breakthrough at some point in the game,” he said, “and it just happened to be that one inning.”
A breakthrough cued by that one chest save.
“Thank God [Irving] had the gear on,” Bettinger said.