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UVa edges Tigers in rubber match with pitching and defense

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Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 7:10 pm | Updated: 9:45 am, Mon Apr 14, 2014.

Virginia’s Mike Papi took a 2-2 pitch to right field, forcing Clemson’s Steven Duggar to leave his cleats and dive forward to make the catch. Robbie Coman, tagging from third base, easily scored.

And with that, a third-inning play, you had your offensive highlight of the afternoon.

The second-ranked Cavaliers squeaked by the 14th-ranked Tigers, 1-0, before 4,840 sun-splashed spectators on Sunday at Davenport Field.

Another game. Another UVa win. Another nine innings full of quality pitching and defense.

Apparently, this is what works in today’s college baseball. The Wahoos, now victors of all weekend series this season, are 30-6 overall and 14-4 in the ACC, sitting atop the league’s Coastal Division.

“As a fan, you have to appreciate the little details of the game,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “You have to appreciate a 1-0 shutout, a great-pitched game. It might not be real exciting because there’s not a lot of offensive explosion, but you have to appreciate great pitching and great defense.”

It’s no secret that offensive production has been lacking since the NCAA switched to the less-springy BBCOR bats in 2011. Sunday, O’Connor noted how UCLA was crowned national champion last season despite only hitting .250 as a team.

“They pitched and played defense,” O’Connor said. “They didn’t hit much. They knew it and the formula worked for them.”

After scoring just five runs in three days against the Tigers, UVa is now averaging 3.6 runs a contest in ACC play.

Then again, the Cavs do sport a 2.06 ERA and .985 fielding percentage.

The Bruins last year? 2.55 ERA, .980 fielding percentage.

“As a coach,” O’Connor said, “you have to figure out, ‘What do we need to do on a consistent basis to win college baseball games?’ I think we’re doing those things, and that is great pitching and playing really good defense.”

Sunday, the pitching stars were Brandon Waddell, Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard.

Waddell pieced together his second consecutive gem of an outing, scattering six hits in 6 1/3 innings while striking out four and not issuing a walk.

The sophomore left-hander is now 5-1 with a 2.78 ERA. Dating back to his stellar start at Pitt last week, Waddell hasn’t allowed a run in 14 1/3 innings.

“I feel really good right now,” Waddell said. “Coming off the rest in the fall, I felt like I was a little bit behind, to be honest. But I feel really good right now and I just got to keep it going.”

Mayberry, as he did in Friday’s 3-2 win, was superb in wiggling out of jams.

In the seventh inning, the fifth-year senior stranded Clemson runners at first and second base. In the eighth, he worked around a leadoff single.

“I just have a lot of confidence because I got the eight best fielders behind me,” Mayberry said. “I just try to throw strikes and think about what Coach has taught us through the years and rely on that.”

Howard picked up his 11th save in 11 chances by striking out Clemson’s Tyler Slaton with a wicked 82-mph slider as the potential tying run stood at second base.

“Give all the credit to them,” Howard said. “They’re a great hitting team, they have a lot of good bats in that lineup. Going out there, I just knew that I had to make perfect pitches.

“That’s the thrill of this job. Being the closer, you have to be perfect in that last inning to clinch the win.”

Which, by the slimmest of the margins and through the near-weakest of offensive performances, the Cavaliers got — again.

“We just, fortunately, did enough to win the ballgame,” O’Connor said.

Clemson, which only allowed four hits, dropped to 21-14 and 10-7 in the ACC.

UVa hosts Radford on Tuesday.

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