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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend starters shine for Virginia

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Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014 7:38 pm

Brian O’Connor, with lavalier microphones clinging to the top of his navy hooded sweatshirt, volunteered to open Monday’s media session with his own question.

“What are all of you doing here?” the Virginia coach asked reporters, tongue firmly in cheek. “Did something happen over the weekend?”

The No. 2 Cavaliers arrived back in Charlottesville around 9:30 Sunday evening, officially ending their historic trip to Pittsburgh. During the three-game series, UVa pitchers limited Pitt batters to all of two runs on six hits.

“It was as dominating a weekend as we’ve ever had,” said O’Connor, the 11th-year coach.

The headline-grabber, and main reason for increased media attention Monday, was Nathan Kirby’s Friday night no-hitter, a performance that earned SportsCenter attention, had Twitter buzzing and led to honors for the sophomore left-hander.

Monday, Kirby was named ACC Player of the Week as well as Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

“I don’t think it really has [sunk in] yet,” Kirby said. “It kind of feels like a big dream. I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”

Try completely owning a lineup that was coming off a home sweep of No. 23 Georgia Tech a week earlier.

In Virginia’s 4-0 blanking of the Panthers, Kirby struck out 18 batters and walked just one.

He recorded 10 consecutive K’s from the second inning until the beginning of the fifth, showcasing everything from his signature 92-94 mph fastball to his newly-developed, devastating curveball.

“That’s as dominating a pitching performance as we’ve seen here at the University of Virginia,” O’Connor said. “[It was] against a really good opponent that has almost won every ballgame in their own ballpark this year in Pitt.

“He had a really live fastball going on, he had an excellent breaking ball and he was throwing strikes. It was just amazing that you throw a no-hitter and you have 18 strikeouts and only throw 120 some pitches. He was very, very efficient and did a tremendous job.”

Apparently, it was contagious.

Saturday starter Josh Sborz followed the fifth no-hitter in the last 50 years of UVa baseball with a solid 5 1/3 innings of his own. The fellow sophomore gave up one run on three hits and struck out five with three walks in the Cavaliers’ 2-1 loss.

Brandon Waddell, another sophomore and former Friday starter, delivered arguably the best outing of his career Sunday. The lefty only needed 71 pitches to get through eight shutout innings. He allowed two hits in the 3-0 Virginia win, improving his record to 4-1 and lowering his ERA to 3.14.

UVa’s weekend rotation is now 13-3 with a 2.23 ERA.

“We always talk about not having a 1, 2 or 3,” said pitching coach Karl Kuhn. “We always talk about having a 1A, a 1B and a 1C. We don’t want a 1, 2 and 3.

“There’s no drop-off. There may be a drop off in the miles per hour, but not in the pitchability and what that guy can do. That guy can still win. That’s what I really like about our pitching staff.

“They genuinely root for each other.”

Added Kirby: “After the game Friday, I was thinking about Sborz Saturday. And after the game Saturday, we were thinking about Waddell Sunday. So I think it’s more in that scenario than us trying to compete and whoever has the best weekend wins.

“We all want the same for each other and want everyone to do well.”

The Cavaliers (27-5), owners of the nation’s fourth-best ERA (1.98), will have a well-rested stable or relievers available when they start freshman righty Alec Bettinger (3-0, 0.95) at James Madison (11-17) Tuesday night. First pitch from Harrisonburg is set for 6 p.m.

“The nice part about what we were able to do this weekend with our starting pitching and pitching so deep into games, we have a full bullpen going on on Tuesday, which we really haven’t had in the middle of the week,” O’Connor said. “So it’ll be important to get guys like Whit Mayberry, and pitchers like him, some work.”

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