From his spot hugged up to the home plate side of the dugout, Brian O’Connor started to lift his navy Virginia cap and scratch his head. But then he realized what he just witnessed wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Joe McCarthy, UVa’s right fielder who perhaps doubles as the most patient hitter in all of the Atlantic Coast Conference, watched a 2-0 fastball from the left hand of Jon Woodcock groove its way through the heart of the plate for a strike.
“Why do you take the 2-0 fastball?,” O’Connor thought to himself.
On the ensuing delivery, Woodcock aimed for the same spot in the zone with the exact same pitch.
This time, McCarthy removed the aluminum from his shoulder and swung with enough ferocity to drive the baseball deep into the right-center field gap at Davenport Field, scoring two runs and giving himself the first triple of his season.
So why’d he take that first fastball only to punish the next? Because that’s how Joe McCarthy operates.
“It’s tough to change,” said O’Connor, Virginia’s 11th-year head coach. “He’s got his approach and it seems to work for him.”
McCarthy’s first inning triple against Virginia Tech on Sunday provided the capper to what O’Connor called a “spectacular” weekend for the sophomore.
The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year torched the Hokies for five hits in 11 at-bats. He hit for the cycle in the series and had seven RBI.
Monday, McCarthy was named ACC co-Player of the Week.
“I just think it was one of those weekends,” McCarthy said Sunday after No. 3 Virginia (23-4, 10-2 ACC) beat Virginia Tech, 7-4, to complete the series sweep. “I was seeing the ball really well and I had a good approach all weekend.”
The book on McCarthy isn’t incredibly thick. If you want to get him out, you just better be careful with your pitch placement.
Basketball fans have a better chance at nailing a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket than opposing pitchers have at getting McCarthy to chase something out of the zone.
“Heck, that kid has a really good awareness of the strike zone,” said Virginia Tech coach Patrick Mason. “He doesn’t swing at too many bad pitches. He’s strong to both fields. He can run. He’s a really good player. That’s what makes Joe difficult. He really doesn’t have a weakness. He did a great job. He beat us all weekend.”
In 2013, McCarthy began his college career by reaching base in 36 consecutive games. Along with batting .333, he tied a school record with 54 walks. His .464 on-base percentage ranked fifth nationally among freshmen.
This season the numbers aren’t as high — .287 batting average, two home runs, 20 RBI, 15 walks, .415 OBP — but his lineup presence is still valued.
“Joe’s really calm in the box, so it allows him to see the ball better,” said Mike Papi, who leads the Cavs in batting average (.355), home runs (five) and RBI (26). “And he’s got a good batter’s eye and fights with two strikes, so it makes him a good hitter.”
Miss the bunt, take the hit
Virginia leads the ACC in sacrifice bunts with 37, but it’s the one Papi couldn’t execute that led to the Wahoos’ breakout seventh inning Sunday.
With the Cavaliers trailing 4-3 with no outs and Branden Cogswell on second base and Nick Howard at first, Papi twice failed to lay anything down, running the count to 0-2 against Hokie lefty Sean Kennedy.
Back to a swing-away situation, Papi took advantage by dropping in a single to left-center to score Cogswell.
UVa would score four runs in the frame to gain final control of the game.
“Yeah, I missed the bunt on purpose,” Papi joked. “No, that pitcher had a little bit of armside run on him that I wasn’t aware of and he got up and in on me and I wasn’t able to get the job done.
“But I was glad I got to swing it.”
Virginia leads the ACC in ERA (2.23), opposing batting average (.205), saves (10), runs allowed (67), earned runs allowed (60) and walks allowed (74).
Freshman reliever Connor Jones leads the league in ERA (0.88) and Friday starter Nathan Kirby is second (1.24). Kirby is the co-leader in wins (five). Howard leads the league in saves (eight).
Monarchs in town
The Cavaliers host Old Dominion at 5 p.m., today. The Monarchs are 16-11 and 6-6 in Conference USA after taking two of three from Charlotte over the weekend.
Their early season wins include victories over Rice, UAB, VCU and Liberty.
UVa had to rally from a five-run deficit last season against ODU, taking a 10-9 win in 10 innings. Papi was the hero with a game-tying grand slam in the seventh.