DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Papi went to the wall in left field at Boshamer Stadium, caught it and triggered a game-ending double play. Kenny Towns went over the wall in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, ran the bases and touched home after a game-ending swing.
A week apart, in separate venues, Virginia has had its best late-inning dramatics of 2013 echo throughout Tobacco Road.
Saturday, in an ACC Tournament game with no title implications, third-seeded UVa outlasted second-seeded Florida State, 7-4, in 12 innings. Towns provided the final fireworks with a walk-off three-run shot.
The Saturday before, in a regular season finale that had nothing to do with the ACC Costal Division race, the Cavaliers beat North Carolina, 8-7, in 11 innings when Papi provided a memorable robbery.
So much for these “meaningless” games.
“There’s certainly something special about this club,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “The third game at North Carolina, we battled back and found a way to win that series — and then obviously today. Winning matters to this team. It’s the foundation of our program, that every game matters.
“You have that type of mentality, hopefully it serves you well in the NCAA Tournament.”
But that’s for next week in Charlottesville. The fifth-ranked Wahoos still had one game left in Durham.
Sure, after Virginia Tech eliminated them from championship contention Friday night when the Hokies beat Georgia Tech to clinch Pool B, the Cavs, a virtual lock for a national seed, really had little to play for when they took the field at 11 a.m., Saturday.
But by 3:16 p.m., it was obvious Virginia wasn’t just out there for fun.
At 3:16 p.m., Towns gave the ‘Hoos their 47th win in 57 chances.
“We met last night in the hotel at 9 o’clock after we knew the situation from the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game,” O’Connor said. “I just told them, ‘We never play games that don’t have some kind of meaning. We have a chance tomorrow to show what kind of character and commitment to this program that the players have.’ And [I told them] we needed to treat it like a championship game.
“Certainly, we did.”
Naturally, the victory came in comeback fashion.
It was the 21st such win of the season for these cardiac Cavs.
Seventh-ranked Florida State (44-15) led 1-0 after its half of the third inning and took a 4-1 advantage in its half of the sixth.
UVa starter Whit Mayberry, the new third man in the weekend rotation, went a season-long 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on four hits.
His relief group of Austin Young, Nathan Kirby, Josh Sborz, Kyle Crockett (four innings) and Nick Howard allowed all of four hits in the final 6 2/3 innings.
That opened things for the Virginia offense to make its traditional rally.
The ‘Hoos made it 4-3 in the sixth when Derek Fisher took advantage of poor FSU handling of a Reed Gragnani single and scored. Two batters later, Towns brought Gragnani home on an RBI groundout.
Things got knotted in the eighth when Papi singled to right and Towns scored from first on a quirky sequence of events.
Papi’s hit came despite catcher’s interference. The ruling automatically gave Towns second base. But the sophomore took third and home anyway when the baseball was casually tossed into the infield from FSU right fielder Jameis Winston to shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo, who hardly noticed a hard-charging Towns being motioned by third base coach Kevin McMullan.
“When I was rounding second, he was waving pretty hard the whole time,” Towns said. “So when I got to third, I just kept going because he was waving.”
Florida State coach Mike Martin said he didn’t feel the Noles treated the situation with a lack of urgency but “maybe we dropped our guard for a split second. That enabled the extra step. It was a very aggressive, smart move [by UVa] that paid off.”
It foreshadowed Towns’ heroics four frames later.
With one out and two on in the 12th, the listed 5-foot-11, 185-pounder sent a 1-0 Winston fastball to the Tobacco Road Sports Cafe patio.
“I was thinking I needed to barrel the ball up,” Towns said, “so all I was doing was staying short with my swing.”
During a post-game television interview, Towns got a celebratory Gatorade bath from his teammates.
Who said this was a meaningless game?
“We took it personal,” Towns said. “We knew we had something to prove regardless of what the game meant. I think that just shows the quality of our team and how important winning is to us and how we want to be known as a team.”
Virginia now will await its NCAA Tournament fate. The 16 NCAA Regional host sites will be announced at approximately 9 p.m., tonight. The field of 64 will be unveiled at noon, Monday, on ESPNU.