Late Tuesday night, Joe McCarthy opened his dorm room door for Brandon Waddell.
It’s finals week at the University of Virginia. These star freshman athletes have their fair share of academic stress, too.
“We were pretty much talking about the astronomy final we just took,” McCarthy said. “It took a toll on us pretty bad.”
At 9 o’clock this morning, the two will head for their last exam — anthropology. Some 33 hours later, they’ll take to Davenport Field to begin the stretch run of the other thing that brought them to Thomas Jefferson’s institution.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Waddell, UVa’s No. 1 weekend starter. “Not having to worry about anything else, not having to worry about getting anything else done. It’s all baseball. That’s what I live for, really.
“Being able to be here and just play baseball every day, it’s the life. I’m just excited for it and ready for it to get going.”
The No. 7 Cavaliers (39-8, 17-7 ACC) will host Duke (25-23, 9-15) at 6 p.m., Friday. Waddell will be on the mound. McCarthy will play right field or be the designated hitter and bat third.
They’ll still be introduced as rookies, but, two weeks from from the ACC Tournament, their veteran status is being cemented.
“They’re so mature beyond their years,” said Reed Gragnani, Virginia’s fourth-year second baseman who will be one of six Wahoos honored during Sunday’s Senior Day festivities. “It’s amazing the poise that they have. We treat each other the same, but I’ve been so impressed with their poise and their makeup this year. They’ve been doing a great job for us.”
When Waddell toed his Nikes against the rubber at East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium on Feb. 15, he became the first UVa freshman to make the opening-game start since Dave Sammons in 1986.
The Houston native’s managed to keep his Friday spot with a 4-1 record and a 3.98 ERA. With 63 K’s in 61 innings, Waddell ranks third among all rookies nationally in strikeouts.
“Coming in, I really didn’t know what my role would be,” Waddell said. “Finding out that I would be starting on the weekends was really a big deal, especially not knowing what my role would be. Having that opportunity, being blessed with that, was really a big thing.
“And then I just went out there and tried to get things done.”
Waddell’s season has impressed many, including his talented classmate.
“It’s great just watching him,” McCarthy said. “You never see him get nervous or anything. He handles himself very well on the mound. Even when things start going bad, you never see him pout or anything like that. He’s got a great attitude.”
McCarthy’s got a great enough stat line to put him in ACC Freshman of the Year consideration.
The powerful 6-foot-3, 225-pound former Pennsylvania prep football star is batting .311 with three home runs and 37 RBI. His team-best 43 walks put him second in the ACC. He started the season by reaching base safely in the first 36 games. He’s not found the base paths in just two games.
“I knew I was just going to come in and work hard and whatever happened, happened,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a great ride so far.”
And it’s not over. After Duke, the Cavs travel to No. 1 North Carolina for a highly anticipated conference regular season finale series. Then it’s the ACC Tournament, then it’s the NCAA Regional, then it’s ... well, these two freshmen could help decide the path from there.
“The experiences that Brandon Waddell and Joe McCarthy have had so far in our uniform, I look at them as veteran players,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “One of them is our No. 1 starter and the other one is our 3-hole hitter. You have to be a mature, developed player to do what they’re doing.
“They’ll be counted on certainly from this weekend and on into postseason to perform like veterans.”