Virginia baseball players started arriving in the Davenport Field clubhouse around 1 p.m., Monday, proving life continues after losing a game.
Yes, the national title-seeking Cavaliers failed to sweep the opening weekend of the 2014 season.
They had to settle for a 2-1 result in which they outscored their Saturday and Sunday opponents by a combined score of 19-2.
Apparently, that was enough to keep UVa atop the Baseball America and Perfect Game national polls.
“The biggest bright spot this weekend was the fact that we lost a tough game on Friday against a really good opponent and then our guys responded and won the next two ballgames,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said Monday. “We played great infield defense all weekend and the two starts that we got from [Josh] Sborz and [Nathan] Kirby were as good as you could ask for on the opening weekend.”
Kentucky, a Monday entry to the Perfect Game Top 25, provided UVa with its lone defeat in the Hughes Bros. Challenge, a tournament held in Wilmington, N.C.
The Wildcats got to Cavalier starter Brandon Waddell for four runs in the fourth inning and another two in the fifth. That was all the support they needed on their way to an 8-3 win, giving O’Connor just his third opening day loss in his 11 years at UVa.
Waddell, who was shut down this past summer and fall, didn’t take his first L in 2013 until start No. 9.
O’Connor didn’t think rust played much of a factor against UK. That Wildcat lineup, featuring six-ninths juniors or seniors, was the bigger issue.
“There may be a little bit to that, the fact that he had the fall off,” O’Connor said. “But you got to give credit to Kentucky. They got a good offensive lineup, they got a veteran lineup. They face guys like Waddell or better all the time in the SEC.
“Brandon, as the game went on, as he went around the order the second time, he just didn’t make the pitches that he needed to make. He was up in the zone and, to their credit, they handled it.”
But enter Kirby and Sborz for the closing contests at Brooks Field and all returned to normal for the Wahoos.
The sophomore pitching duo combined to throw 12 scoreless innings as Virginia pounded VMI, 12-0, and then rolled UNC Wilmington, 7-2.
“Both of those guys showed a lot of poise out there,” O’Connor said. “They didn’t get rattled. They threw strikes and made the pitches that they needed to.
“Certainly, they’re both very, very talented and that’s why they’re starting off in the roles that they’re in. They showed what they’re potentially capable of doing.”
Sborz, making his first career weekend start, didn’t allow a hit against the Seahawks. He was pulled after six innings, totaling 82 pitches.
“I’m sure he would have done great,” said junior catcher Nate Irving when asked if Sborz could have kept the no-hit bid alive had he stayed on the mound. “He was throwing strikes, he was getting ahead. He got behind a few guys with two outs, which hurt him a little bit with his pitch count, but I’m sure he would have kept trucking on.”
That’s what the Cavaliers did after dropping the opener.
“I think it was the best way we could have responded,” said junior left fielder Derek Fisher. “I think Coach O’Connor put it best, the only thing that happened Friday was we found out we weren’t going to go undefeated, which is obviously a goal for all of us. We believe we’re good enough to do that.
“But playing a good team like Kentucky and losing like that, I’m a firm believer in trying to take a positive out of everything and I think that was a swift kick to tell us that’s reality and we can lose baseball games.”
UVa returns to action at 4 p.m., Wednesday, when it hosts William & Mary (2-1). Due to snowy field conditions, the game was moved back a day from its originally scheduled date.
Fisher shines, earns honor
Despite UVa’s 50-win 2013, no Cavalier earned an ACC Player of the Week nod until May 13 when Mike Papi got his first of back-to-back honors.
A season later, the Wahoos didn’t have to wait nearly as long for individual recognition.
Fisher, a preseason All-American, backed his reputation with a 5-for-11, three-RBI opening weekend.
Naturally, he was named ACC Player of the Week on Monday.
“I thought he was locked in all weekend,” O’Connor said. “The thing that impressed me about him was that he didn’t try to do too much. The first hit that he got this weekend was a base hit the other way. He wasn’t up there trying to pull the ball or hit the ball out of the ballpark. He was staying within himself and taking what he’s given.
“Certainly, you like to see a guy like that get started like that.”
Fisher recorded the 12th triple of his career against VMI, moving him into a tie for third in program history.
It wasn’t a save situation, but O’Connor got a good glimpse at post-Kyle Crockett closer life on Sunday.
Nick Howard, last season’s Sunday starter, worked a perfect ninth inning against UNCW, striking out a pair and reportedly running his fastball up to 95 mph.
“Certainly, when you’re out there for one inning or maybe two on certain occasions, you can let it go a little bit more and you don’t have to conserve yourself,” O’Connor said. “I thought that he did a nice job. He threw strikes, and that’s the thing we want to see.”
Howard, who doubles as a designated hitter or third baseman, is replacing Crockett, a 2013 fourth round pick of the Cleveland Indians, on the bullpen’s backend.