Ratcliffe: Cavaliers lose their identity in loss to Mississippi State - The Daily Progress: Sports

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Ratcliffe: Cavaliers lose their identity in loss to Mississippi State

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Posted: Saturday, June 8, 2013 8:57 pm | Updated: 11:01 am, Mon Jun 10, 2013.

Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Don’t stop. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Keep going. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. Hit.

If you’re tired of reading it, just think how Virginia’s five freshmen pitchers felt after being cut up like a boarding house pie by visiting Mississippi State in an 11-6 loss Saturday afternoon at Davenport Field.

The Cavaliers, built upon strong pitching and solid defense, lost their identity during the four-hour long odyssey, and paid dearly. Heading into tonight’s second game in the best-of-three series, coach Brian O’Connor’s team stands on the brink of elimination in this NCAA Super Regional.

UVa’s pitchers must have gotten dizzy from watching all the opposing Bulldogs circle the bases to the tune of 20 hits, the most by any Cavalier opponent in six years. If that wasn’t enough to ruin most Wahoos’ days, toss in four errors in a loss that was more lopsided than the official outcome.

When it was over, the Virginia skipper seemed bewildered by what had just run over his team in front of 4,956 witnesses.

“That was as good of an offensive approach by Mississippi State as we have seen all year,” O’Connor said. “They were relentless at the plate. They did a heck of a job with two strikes and taking advantage of opportunities. To come to this ballpark and get 20 hits is pretty impressive.”

Mississippi State jumped on UVa freshman starter Brandon Waddell and never let up, sending him to the showers after just 3.1 innings, his second-shortest stint of the season.

O’Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn kept marching out one freshman arm after another (five in all: Waddell, Josh Sborz, Nathan Kirby, David Rosenberger, and Trey Oest) and the Bulldogs’ hit parade was merciless against each wide-eyed rookie.

“Bodes well for the future,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said, not realizing all of ‘em were Virginia freshmen.

The Cavaliers aren’t thinking about the future. They’re trying to bury the immediate past by dawn and get on with their plans of bouncing back. Virginia has been known for its ability to shrug off adversity all season long and answer the bell and has all day to think about it before trying to find an answer for the Bulldogs’ bite by sundown.

While O’Connor and his team are known for their composure under the most stressful moments, it’s a wonder something wasn’t thrown or broken in the dugout during Saturday’s barrage. Teams just don’t come into Davenport and ride roughshod over the Wahoos like Mississippi State did. Just doesn’t happen.

Instead of being snappy, O’Connor didn’t flinch when the topic of five freshmen hurlers came up in the postgame.

“I think our kids are in good shape,” he said. “We still have a lot of pitchers we didn’t use. We need (senior) Scott Silverstein to give us a quality start [Sunday night]. That’s something we didn’t get from [Waddell] today. Our bullpen will be fine. Anyone we didn’t use today, we will use [Sunday] and we can use them again on Monday.”

There was no panic in O’Connor’s voice. Never is. Yet, he had to be concerned with the way the SEC opponent manhandled his pitchers in the opener.

Mississippi State’s top of the order (first four batters) went 12-for-19, scoring seven runs and driving in eight. Shortstop Adam Frazier, only three hits from becoming the top Bulldog slugger in program history, went a stunning 6-for-6. He had two doubles, a triple, three RBI and two runs scored, a pretty good week for most hitters.

The visitors from Starkville mirrored what Virginia has been famous for all season long, not giving away outs and producing with two away. In fact, Cohen’s club battled all day, managing to go 7-of-16 (.438) while batting with two outs.

Virginia’s young pitchers must be wondering, “Were we that bad or were they that good?”

Most of them chalked it up to a bad day at the office. UVa’s hitters insisted that they were right there, but couldn’t deliver the clutch hit at the right time.

MSU’s Cohen said even with a nice cushion of runs, he was never comfortable, realizing that the Cavaliers had enough firepower to blast their way back into contention. No doubt he had noticed that UVa had recorded 21 come-from-behind victories this season en route to a 50-win campaign and a No. 6 national seeding.

What O’Connor rolled out onto Davenport’s diamond didn’t resemble the effort he had gotten all season long. If Saturday was Virginia’s best effort, then Mississippi State must be untouchable.

Neither coach is thinking that way.

O’Connor was quick to point out that he’s not looking at tonight as an elimination game, even though he’s keenly aware of that fact.

“You have to come out and win two ball games this weekend,” he said. “It has been pretty rare for us not to win a series.”

The Bulldogs’ CEO isn’t taking anything for granted either.

“We better throw a lot of bottom of the zone movement or they’re going to hit the daylights out of it,” Cohen said about Game 2. “When we get in the trenches [Sunday], it’s every inning, every pitch. If you look beyond that you’re crazy because you’re playing one of the great teams in college baseball.”

A Virginia team that hopes to rediscover its identity by 7 o’clock.

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