The last time Brandon Waddell was involved in a decision, the Virginia pitcher had an ERA of 0.54, the Cavaliers were barely in the top 20 and Tony Bennett’s men’s basketball team had just knocked off Duke.
At 7 p.m., tonight, Waddell will get the start at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium. His ERA is up to 3.71, the Wahoos are ranked fourth nationally and Bennett’s bunch is two weeks removed from an NIT loss.
Yet, Waddell remains a “perfect” 2-0.
“With the no-decisions, that’s fine with me,” Waddell said. “My job’s not to go out there to get wins. My job is to go out there and keep our team in the game.
“That comes along with winning.”
So does a potent, always-ready-to-rally UVa lineup.
Waddell’s last win came on March 1. The freshman handcuffed Harvard to the tune of no runs on three hits and seven strikeouts in a 3-0 result.
He has since battled the rapids in some rough Atlantic Coast Conference waters. He was lined up for a win against Maryland on March 9 before the Terrapins came back on reliever Austin Young. He was due for losses at Clemson (March 15) and at Wake Forest (April 6), but the offense came to his rescue.
In fact, in Waddell’s five starts since the Harvard outing, Virginia is averaging close to nine runs of support.
Against the Demon Deacons, he exited in the sixth inning in a 6-1 hole. Three frames later, Mike Papi hit a go-ahead grand slam to cap a furious Cavalier comeback.
“It’s hard not to get complacent,” Waddell said. “We get in situations where it’s make or break, but we’ve come through so many times we’re used to just, ‘Oh, we’re going to do it.’
“It’s more of an expected feeling, which is hard not to get complacent with.”
The Houston native is trying to avoid the routine.
“It’s the game of baseball, it can set you up for failure,” Waddell said. “You really have to get out there and try to keep in the best spots so you’re not in situations when you have to keep going through that.”
The Cavaliers (30-4, 12-3) lived too dangerously on Wednesday. Starter Artie Lewicki and reliever Trey Oest spotted Radford a 9-1 lead after two innings.
Naturally, UVa stormed back, but it wasn’t enough in a 9-8 loss.
“It’s not something we want to be in every weekend,” said sophomore designated hitter Derek Fisher. “Regardless, being down 9-4 [in the ninth inning], we still have a shot not matter what. ... It’s just one of these situations you’d rather not be in, but to see us come and fight back like that shows a lot about our team.”
But it still ended in defeat.
Try that strategy this weekend with the No. 17 Yellow Jackets (24-9, 9-6) and the recovery trail could be closed.
Georgia Tech, with its .328 average, is the best hitting team in the ACC.
“We know going in that everyone we face in the ACC is going to be good,” Waddell said. “So we prepare the same way every single time. You just got to get in there, throw strikes, get the job done.
“Hitters are going to hit, that’s what they do. It’s really managing that, managing what they get going and just try to keep our team in the game.”
And not let the uphill climb get too steep.
If Waddell could return to early March form, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor would certainly take it.
“Brandon hasn’t pitched up to his capabilities the last two weekends,” O’Connor said. “But he’s a freshman. Typically, freshmen go through that kind of rough spot at some point. It’s just a matter of him continuing to do the things that he does that has allowed him to be successful.
“He needs to get back to doing that.”