WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Sure, Mike Papi hinted at a quick, easy rout when he ripped a run-scoring double in the first inning to give Virginia a 1-0 lead.
But, then again, this was the 2013 UVa-Wake Forest series. There had to be late-inning fireworks to get the proper result.
The No. 4 Cavaliers won, 9-7, on Monday to sweep the Demon Deacons and improve to 30-3 and 12-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Naturally, it wasn’t truly decided until the final pitch — a Kyle Crockett strikeout with the tying run at the plate.
Wake Forest trailed 9-3 entering the ninth, but, taking a page from UVa’s book this weekend, staged its own rally.
The Deacs scored four runs, two coming from a Brett Armour home run, and nearly pulled the upset.
The Wahoos needed Crockett to earn his fifth save in as many games to close things.
“It was the most interesting sweep that I think we’ve had,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “Nothing was easy. All three games were grind-it-out.
“Fortunately, we got those runs in the ninth inning because we needed them.”
A loss would have taken away from a Virginia lineup that produced more dramatics.
Brandon Downes turned a 3-3 game into a 5-3 lead in the eighth with a two-out double. Joe McCarthy made it 9-3 in the ninth with a deep three-run bomb, his second home run of the evening.
“I started off 0-for-2 with a strikeout,” sad McCarthy who finished 4-for-6 with four RBI to extend his reached base streak to 33 games. “I tried to focus in on really keeping a simple approach at the plate. Just hitting the ball where it’s pitched and not trying to do too much. That’s what really got me hot toward the end of the game.”
It was all shades of Papi (go-ahead grand slam in the ninth inning on Saturday) and Reed Gragnani (go-ahead home run in the eighth inning on Sunday) from a wild series at Gene Hooks Field.
McCarthy’s blast, at the time, seemed to simply be an insurance shot.
After all, that rock-solid Virginia bullpen and its collective ERA of under 2 would certainly be in full control with a six-run lead.
Well, freshman fire-baller Nathan Kirby got rocked for three runs (two earned) and Austin Young gave up Armour’s homer.
It was an uncharacteristic performance for a usual lights-out group.
“They were aggressive against a guy [Kirby] that pitches aggressively,” O’Connor said. “They barreled a couple of balls up. He did get the big strikeout, though. I thought that was important to kind of calm things down a little bit.
“And that guy put a good swing against Young. But Kirby’s done some good things. He’ll get back out there and he’ll be fine.”
In the end, McCarthy’s third home run of the season ended up being the difference.
“It gave us the lead,” McCarthy said, “but in the ninth inning we really have to finish. We have to stay focused and really buckle down to win that ballgame.”
The late support got Nick Howard (4-2) a deserving win. The sophomore right-hander went a career-high 7 1/3 innings, striking out six and not allowing an earned run. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
It was an especially meaningful deep outing after Saturday starter Brandon Waddell went six innings and Sunday starter Scott Silverstein went just 3 2/3.
“He was fantastic,” O’Connor said of Howard. “Knowing that we had to go into our bullpen probably too early in the first two games, he just came out and he was in complete control of the game. His velocity was great, his command was great, his breaking ball was really good.
“He just had them tied in knots.”
Fitting because that’s what UVa did to the stomachs of its fans all series.
“We got guys stepping up in clutch situations everywhere,” McCarthy said.
Virginia will host Radford (19-11) at 6 p.m., Wednesday.