Late Friday night, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor met with his pitching coach, Karl Kuhn, to discuss Virginia’s throwing plan for the next day’s 3 p.m. ACC Tournament finale against Florida State.
The decision to start Whit Mayberry had already been announced, but there were a pair of fresh arms sitting in the bullpen that hadn’t participated in live action in over a week.
Closer Kyle Crockett last tossed on May 27 at North Carolina. Nick Howard hadn’t touched a mound since a May 12 home start against Duke.
Flash ahead to Saturday afternoon and O’Connor was speaking to media members after his Wahoos dramatically downed the Seminoles in 12 innings — aka long enough for Crockett (four innings) and Howard (one inning) to get their proper warmup in before this week’s NCAA Tournament.
“It really couldn’t have worked out better,” O’Connor said.
Surely, O’Connor and Kuhn didn’t script the 12 innings, but the extended game was a huge Virginia pitching benefit.
At 1 p.m., Friday, the first-seeded Cavs will host fourth-seeded Army to open the Charlottesville Regional.
O’Connor said during a Tuesday teleconference that he won’t announce weekend starters until today or Thursday. Howard, also the everyday third baseman/shortstop and the one-time Sunday starter, won’t be in that rotation, but there’s a chance he’d get the nod if this regional goes to a Monday second championship game.
That’s what made the sophomore right-hander’s gutsy 12th inning last Saturday (one hit, no runs, two K’s) so crucial.
“You never know when Nick’s going to help us again on the mound,” O’Connor said. “You got him out there in a clutch situation.”
As for Crockett, the All-ACC performer worked frames eight through 11 by allowing two hits and striking out six.
The junior appeared back to form after his previous appearance, a six-run eighth inning shelling in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.
“Fortunately, we hadn’t used him yet [in the ACC Tournament],” O’Connor said. “It allowed him to go out there and throw 60 pitches and stretch him out a little bit, which certainly could happen in an NCAA Regional. You could need him on back-to-back days for 30-pitch outings or, potentially, you could need him for a 50-70-pitch outing.”
He threw 57 brilliant pitches against the Noles, prompting longtime FSU coach Mike Martin to say afterwards, “Kyle Crockett, you ain’t going to see him long in the minors, boys. That’s a beautiful, beautiful arm.”
As he begins another quest for his first national title on Friday, O’Connor shouted in a good friend’s direction on Tuesday, someone who recently came back to Charlottesville with a certain trophy.
Brian Boland, the Virginia men’s tennis coach, is O’Connor’s neighbor. He’s also the man behind the 2013 team national champs, a feat that, after two straight runners-up, was finally captured last week in Urbana, Ill.
“Living two doors down from Brian, I’ve spent many times with him in dealing with the disappointment of not winning it,” O’Connor said. “But this guy and his coaches and his players work so incredibly hard year in and year out. They deserve this. It was their time to do it.
“I’m so happy for Brian and his staff and his players. They’ve just been dominant in that sport. They just haven’t been able to win the final one. I think it proves to everybody how hard it is to win at the very, very end.
“I’m so happy for him. Now, he can go on and win maybe three or four straight.”
Meanwhile in Blacksburg ...
Virginia (47-10) lost to just one team three times this season. That bunch happens to be hosting its program’s first-ever regional on Friday.
Virginia Tech (38-20) will use English Field to play UConn at 5:30 p.m. The Hokies benefitted from a late-season 15-2 run and a trip to the ACC Tournament title game to finally give Blacksburg postseason baseball.
“I think it’s great for ACC baseball,” O’Connor said. “[Hokies coach] Pete Hughes is a friend of mine, he’s been a longtime friend of mine. I’m really happy for him and his program. He’s worked really hard there. I think it’s great that they were selected as a host site.”