Josh Sborz let the baseball go from his right hand, heard the bat’s crack and had one thought rush to his head.
“A sure double,” he said.
There was one out in the fourth inning of a 2-0 game in Virginia’s favor when East Carolina’s Ben Fultz gave the Pirates a threat with one swing.
With his teammate, Luke Lowery, leading off first base, Fultz turned on a Sborz toss, roping it to the right field corner.
But since Opening Day 2013, that’s been Joe McCarthy territory for the Cavaliers.
The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year noticed Saturday’s Charlottesville wind was going to stop Fultz’s shot from hooking — giving him a chance.
On a sprint, McCarthy, a former high school running back, snatched the Rawlings hit out of the air and then fired to Mike Papi at first base to double up Lowery.
Inning over. Threat over.
No. 1 Virginia topped East Carolina, 4-0, before 3,561 Davenport Field spectators who went home satisfied after watching their Wahoos flash more leather in the field and stuff on the mound than pop at the plate.
Brian O’Connor will gladly take that style of performance.
“If you throw strikes, if you pitch and handle the ball, you’re going to be in every ballgame,” said the 11th-year UVa coach. “Even though you might not have as good of an offensive day or not capitalize on some of the opportunities you have, you can still go back to pitching and defense and still have an opportunity to win.”
Sborz (2-0, 0.00 ERA) went five innings, giving up three hits, striking out six and walking three. Erratic at times, the sophomore needed 86 pitches to get through the outing. He allowed six base-runners.
But none came across.
Perhaps McCarthy shut down ECU’s best opportunity.
“When I was running towards the ball,” McCarthy said of his fourth inning snag, “I could hear their third base coach yelling at [Lowery] and telling him to come to third.
“So I was just trying to catch it and get it out of my glove as fast as I could.”
The strike to Papi came in plenty of time as Lowery had started his round of second base before he realized McCarthy had made the catch.
“That was a great play,” O’Connor said. “That was a huge play in the ballgame.”
McCarthy committed just one error last season, but his teammates weren’t nearly as efficient in 2013.
The Cavaliers finished 10th in the ACC in fielding percentage. They committed seven errors in the Super Regional series loss to Mississippi State.
Naturally, there was a narrowed focus on a certain element of the game prior to this season’s first pitch.
“You hear the term ‘defense wins championships’ and it’s the truth,” McCarthy said. “It’s one of things that we really take pride in.”
Through six games, the Wahoos (5-1) have committed only two errors, none coming in this ECU series.
Combine that with a pitching staff that has a 1.20 ERA in its last five games and Virginia is starting to find its recipe for ultimate success when the postseason rolls around.
UVa, despite its stacked lineup, left 10 runners on base Saturday, but it still got an RBI single from Derek Fisher followed by a Nick Howard RBI sacrifice fly in the third inning, a Mike Papi RBI double in the fourth and a McCarthy RBI single in the sixth.
That was more than enough for Sborz and company to hold.
“The most important thing is not to give free bases on errors or walks,” Sborz said. “That’s what we did today.”
David Rosenberger and Connor Jones provided Sborz’s scoreless relief.
East Carolina (3-3) hasn’t managed a run in 15 innings.
The streak has a chance to continue when the Cavaliers and Pirates meet for the series finale at 1 p.m., today.
Lefty Brandon Waddell (0-1) will start for Virginia.
“I’ve said it all along,” O’Connor said, “we love our offensive ballclub, but we need to make sure that our pitching is consistent.
“Certainly, we’ve shown that. I’m excited to see Waddell go out there.”