Virginia was into Duke’s bullpen. It had one across. Another stood at first base. The Davenport Field crowd was into rally mode.
The comeback formula was once again brewing in Charlottesville on Friday night when Nick Howard took one step in the batter’s box in the ninth inning.
Then Mother Nature had to interrupt.
Trailing 5-4 with one out and one on in the final frame, UVa’s momentum was halted by a lightning strike and then a torrential downpour.
The weather delay began at 8:55 p.m. The game re-started at 9:51 p.m. Virginia had its 40th victory of the season by 9:59 p.m.
Nate Irving hit a walk-off single to right field to score Howard and give the Cavs a thrilling 6-5 win.
“I just told the team, ‘Be ready to go. We’ll do anything we can to finish this game tonight rather than play a continuation game tomorrow,’” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “Fortunately, it worked.”
UVa scored three runs in the ninth off five hits — including a game-tying single from Reed Gragnani.
The No. 7 Wahoos improved to 40-8 and 18-7 in the ACC. Duke dropped to 25-24 and 9-16 in the league.
Virginia was forced to stage its comeback against Duke closer Andrew Istler because Blue Devil starter Trent Swart wouldn’t be cracked.
The left-hander delivered an eight-inning performance of three runs on five hits. He struck out six and retired 12 straight Cavs from the second to the sixth inning.
Swart, who entered with an ERA of 2.45, allowed a first-inning, two-run single to Joe McCarthy, but settled down thereafter and got a supportive offense.
Duke, courtesy of a pair of two-run homers, got to Wahoo starter Brandon Waddell for four runs (two earned) on five hits in 6 1/3 innings.
The Blue Devils’ Jeff Kremer added an insurance run in the seventh with an RBI double off Josh Sborz.
But a 5-3 lead wasn’t enough. Not against these cardiac Cavs.
Brandon Downes started the rally with a one-out triple. He then scored on a wild pitch during Derek Fisher’s at-bat. Fisher followed with a single and the Cavalier faithful began to erupt.
Then the rain came.
But 56 minutes later, Howard delivered with a base-knock to center.
And the epic ending was back on schedule.
The ninth inning comeback was the third such win for Virginia in 2013.
“I just tried to see it and put a good swing on it,” Irving said of his heroics.
Virginia managed 10 hits, but none from its season leader in that category.
Shortstop and leadoff man Branden Cogswell, a Wallace Award candidate, broke the middle finger on his right hand during last Saturday’s practice.
The sophomore will be reevaluated in two weeks prior to the ACC Tournament.
Howard, the normal third baseman, shifted to short and Mike Papi, the nation’s leader in on-base percentage, batted leadoff.