With his hands hidden deep in the pockets of his Virginia jacket, Brandon Waddell already had his mind set on the weekend.
The UVa pitcher had just watched his Cavaliers slice though Liberty, 7-2, on Wednesday and the Charlottesville night was growing darker and colder.
For this native Texan, who was indoors and away from the elements, the bus for Clemson couldn’t fire up soon enough.
“It looks nice so far,” Waddell said, admitting he spent a portion of time this week checking the South Carolina forecast. “Low to mid-70s. We’ll have to see how it goes, but I’m hoping it’s warmer.
“It would definitely help.”
Waddell leads all Atlantic Coast Conference freshmen in strikeouts (33), he’s third among rookies in ERA (1.59) and he’s yet to take a loss (2-0).
The biggest challenge of his young career comes Friday when the No. 12 Wahoos (15-1) take on the Tigers (10-5).
Waddell will be making his fifth start, but first in an ACC venue not called “Davenport Field.”
And, yes, temperatures are expected to still be in the 60s when the 6:30 p.m. first pitch is delivered by Clemson’s Daniel Gossett.
“I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve definitely been wishing for the warm [weather],” Waddell said with a grin.
He’ll get just that ... plus a talented lineup to deal with ... and in front of several thousand fans wearing the wrong kind of orange at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
“It’s a little different being on the other side,” Waddell said. “When you do something good, people aren’t cheering.”
He knows the feeling.
On Feb. 15, Waddell started the 2013 opener before 3,511 at East Carolina. He took a no-decision after giving up two runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“His first start down at East Carolina, he pitched well,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “But it’s still your first game, your first college start, your opening day start for the University of Virginia. Certainly, there’s going to be some nerves. You try to do a little bit too much.”
All the former Houston prep star did for an encore was strike out 15 Toledo Rockets in his Davenport debut and return to the very same hill the next week to hold Harvard scoreless for six innings.
Finally, the 6-foot-2, 160-pounder with the wicked change-up ran into some trouble against Maryland last Friday, allowing a season-high eight hits and three earned runs in six innings.
“There was definitely some adversity at times,” Waddell said. “There’s more pressure to make that pitch. You’re not going to get away with as many mistakes maybe as you would in the beginning of the year. But that comes along with knowing the opponent you’re playing in the ACC.
“Every team you play is going to be good, so every start you have to be out there trying to be your best.”
The Tigers feature Garrett Boulware (.333 batting average, two home runs, 11 RBI) and Steve Wilkerson (.293, one, 11) at the plate and Gossett on the mound (2-1, 1.46 ERA).
“That’s what you dream about as a little kid — playing the toughest competition at the highest level you can,” Waddell said. “I really live for it, thrive in it and just try to do the best I can at taking in every moment of it.”
In fact, O’Connor said that’s one of his ace’s best traits.
“Clemson is one of the storied college baseball programs,” said the 10th-year skipper. “It’s a great environment. I think he’s learned that he just needs to stay within himself and do what he’s capable of doing and not try to get out of himself.
“I’ve said this from day one, Waddell has a lot of poise.”
And not a whole lot of patience for the cold.
“I still don’t think I’m used to it,” Waddell said. “I don’t know if I ever will be — especially pitching in it.”