RICHMOND — Before Tuesday, the last time Virginia made an in-state visit to a nonconference foe, a pair of Cavalier freshman pitchers effectively participated in a one-hit shutout of Liberty.
Josh Sborz and Nathan Kirby dazzled for 7 1/3 innings, giving the Wahoo fans who made that April 2 journey to Lynchburg an encouraging glance into the future.
However, in the ensuing weeks, each rookie took lumps. Sborz gave up six runs in a span of 5 2/3 innings. Kirby was rocked for eight runs in a span of 4 1/3.
But then came Tuesday. UVa was back in a foreign stadium in the Commonwealth. The Virginia freshman pitchers were back to being dominant.
Kirby and Sborz combined with David Rosenberger for six shutout innings in UVa’s 11-3 rout of VCU before 4,104 at The Diamond.
“I think Kirby and Sborz threw really well for us,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “At times, they’ve been inconsistent, but that’s typically what freshmen are. You can tell the talent that both those individuals have. They’re going to be great pitchers for us for the rest of the season and the rest of their careers.”
Kirby, a Richmond native, made his second career start and flipped the script from his outing against Harvard on March 2 (three runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings). On a tight pitch count, the fire-baller worked two innings, not allowing a hit and striking out one on 26 tosses.
“I feel like it’s finally coming,” Kirby said of his progression. “It’s been a work in progress. I’ve been fighting myself out there, but it’s been a good experience overall.”
Sborz, a bright spot from an otherwise dreadful staff performance at Virginia Tech over the weekend, went another two and yielded the rookies’ only hit of the evening (a meaningless Jordan Weymouth single in the third inning). The right-hander lowered his ERA to 1.86.
The Kirby-Sborz gem was shades of the Liberty dazzler from 28 days earlier.
In fact, in order to help with confidence, Virginia catcher Nate Irving brought up the shutdown against the Flames prior to Tuesday’s start.
“Josh and Nathan threw really, really well a couple weeks ago against Liberty,” Irving said. “So we actually talked at Virginia Tech about what they did to be successful down there and what they’ve done over the course of the year to be successful. We wanted to get back to that.”
Rosenberger, a lefty who’s quietly had a productive 2013, had his ERA drop to 0.96 after a spotless two frames.
The Rams (21-22) had to wait until junior Whit Mayberry took the mound in the seventh inning to crack the scoreboard.
Of course, by that time the No. 7 Cavaliers were already up, 9-0.
The Virginia lineup was in its usual form, totaling 14 hits. Sophomore Mike Papi led the way with a 3-for-3 outing that included pair of RBI.
Four Wahoos (Branden Cogswell, Jared King, Joe McCarthy, Brandon Downes) had two hits. Nick Howard was the lone Virginia starter to not record a hit.
Virginia neatly recovered from a series loss in Blacksburg.
“Tonight was a great game for us to kind of get back to feeling comfortable,” said second baseman Reed Gragnani, who went 1-for-5 with an RBI.
The Cavs improved to 39-8. They’ll now break for final exams until Duke comes to Davenport Field on May 10.