DURHAM, N.C. — Nick Howard’s slider danced past the swing of Kenny Koplove and Virginia’s normally reserved closer bounced off the mound with a burst of emotion rarely seen in his two-plus years in a Cavalier uniform.
He unleashed a scream that coincided with an emphatic fist pump.
“It was just an intense moment,” Howard said. “I just let it all out.”
And there you have it — the final scene to UVa’s 2014 opening ACC series, a three-game set that combined frustration with triumph.
The No. 1 Wahoos defeated Duke, 2-1, on Sunday before 737 at Jack Coombs Field. They took two of three over the Blue Devils despite producing just 18 hits and scoring seven runs.
“Baseball’s not a game where you’re going to come out and score seven, eight, nine, 10 runs a game,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “It’s just not. This team, it’s already the first ACC weekend, and we haven’t nowhere near played our best baseball yet.
“So that’s encouraging.”
Encouraging that, with their powerful lineup in a collective slump, the Cavs are still 11-3.
Encouraging that, with the same arms constantly being used out of the bullpen, the Cavs are 10-0 when leading after six innings.
The formula to success has been different than years past, but the results aren’t changing much this season.
“Last year, we started hot as a firecracker offensively and that’s tough to sustain,” O’Connor said. “Our guys just need to keep their fundamentals. They’re all very, very talented and very capable.”
Sunday, UVa, the reigning ACC batting champs, scored its two runs in the second inning. With Joe McCarthy at third base and Howard at first, Nate Irving lifted a sacrifice fly to left field. McCarthy beat Mark Lumpa’s throw home while Howard tagged up and dashed to second base. Duke catcher Mike Rosenfeld tried to nab Howard, but his toss drifted into right-center and Howard took the remaining bases.
It was a scrappy way for an offensive highlight, but it summed up Virginia’s weekend.
Nothing came easy with the bats.
“This is a group that’s going to battle,” Irving said. “We’re never going to give up on anything. We’re hardnosed. We’ve been taught to play that way.
“This is a group that’s going to stick together — through the good and the bad.”
Sunday’s good was its pitching.
Brandon Waddell (3-1) delivered 99 pitches in six innings, scattering one run on three hits. He struck out seven and walked three.
The sophomore left-hander put the heart of Duke’s lineup down in order in his final frame — a nine-toss appearance that ended with Grant McCabe looking at strike three.
“That was big,” O’Connor said. “That was a huge inning. Where his pitch count was, we didn’t know whether to go to the bullpen again or not. Some of these starters need to start pitching deeper into the ballgame. Otherwise, we’re going to wear that bullpen out.
“But [Waddell] did a tremendous job today. There’s no question.”
The usuals came from the ‘pen.
First, Whit Mayberry, making his co-team-leading seventh appearance of the season, worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh inning.
Next, David Rosenberger, also making his seventh appearance of the season, tossed a perfect eighth inning that included two strikeouts.
Finally, Howard, shaking off a home run he gave up on Saturday, struck out three of the four batters he faced in the ninth to collect his fourth save.
It was a scream-worthy moment.
“I loved it,” Irving said. “If he’s going to show that kind of emotion and pitch like that, it’s going to be a pretty special season for him.”
Virginia hosts James Madison on Tuesday.