April 24, 2014
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- For a UVa baseball team that leaves Thursday for a marquee series with fourth-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee, the timing could not have been better.
The top-ranked Cavaliers' struggles at the plate this season have been well-documented, but two midweek games offered proof that head coach Brian O'Connor's club might be regaining its 2013 form.
Less than 24 hours after hitting two home runs Tuesday night in an extra-innings win over VCU at The Diamond, UVa belted four in a 13-0 romp over Richmond at Davenport Field.
Three of those homers against UR (15-22-1) -- the first by sophomore Robbie Coman, the second by classmate Joe McCarthy and the third by junior Derek Fisher -- came in the third inning. Junior Mike Papi added a two-run shot in the sixth.
Not since April 5, 2005, had four players homered in a game for Virginia.
"For us to be clicking on all cylinders when we go into Florida State is something pretty special," said Fisher, who returned to the lineup Sunday after missing 25 games with a broken bone in his right wrist.
Fisher, one of three Cavaliers with two hits Wednesday night, also homered against VCU. In all, the Wahoos had 24 hits in the wins over the Rams and the Spiders.
"It's good to just see the bats come alive, and hopefully it brings a lot of energy to the rest of the team," said McCarthy, whose grand slam Wednesday night broke the game open.
"I really feel like we're starting to click now as a team, especially with Fish back in the lineup, and it's really exciting to see what we can do on certain nights, and we just have to continue it."
Virginia (35-7, 16-5), tied for first with Miami in the ACC's Coastal Division, will play three games against Atlantic Division leader Florida State (32-9, 16-5): Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Seminoles are characteristically imposing, O'Connor said.
"They've got a really balanced lineup," he said. "They've got some really talented left-handed hitters. Their starting rotation looks really good. They've got depth in their bullpen. So it'll be a tremendous challenge in front of us this weekend, but it's a challenge that we look forward to.
"The type of baseball you have to play this weekend is the type of baseball you have to play in a [NCAA tournament] regional or a super regional to advance. It's going to be a great environment. They have some of the best fans in the country. It's going to be a great opportunity for us.
"I'm glad that we had the two midweek games. The more we play, I think, the better, especially when you're trying to get more productivity and consistency out of your offense. I think the more pitches they see and the more at-bats they have, the better it is for them. We'll see where it takes us."
In its 5-4 win over VCU, Virginia used four pitchers, including three relievers who are likely to play key roles in Tallahassee - freshman Connor Jones, junior Nick Howard and senior Whit Mayberry.
Neither Jones nor Howard was available Wednesday night, and Mayberry would have been limited to one inning. On `80s Night at Davenport Field -- the `Hoos wore throwback uniforms against the Spiders -- O'Connor was looking for a strong performance from his starter, and Alec Bettinger delivered.
The freshman right-hander, whose previous career high was four strikeouts, fanned 11 in six innings Wednesday night and improved his record to 5-0. He walked one and allowed one hit.
"I was just trying to attack the zone," said Bettinger, a graduate of Hylton High in Northern Virginia. "It just happened to miss their bats sometimes, and they were guessing a little bit, I think, and just looked at some pitches."
UVa extended two lengthy winning streaks this week. Virginia has won 14 consecutive games over VCU and 12 straight over UR.
The victory over the Rams (28-10) did not come easily for the `Hoos, who led 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. In the top of the 10th, junior Brandon Downes homered on the first pitch he faced, and that proved to be the difference.
"Last night was probably one of the more emotional games we've had this year," O'Connor said Wednesday night. "I don't know that there's been another game where we've taken the lead into the eighth and ninth and not finished it off in regulation."
By the time the team bus got back to Davenport, it was past 1 a.m. on Wednesday, and the Cavaliers had another game in about 17 hours.
"So it was a short night's rest for us all," O'Connor said. "I thought we came out and played a really good ball game, really clean game. It was good to see ... I thought collectively as an offense that we had a really good approach today."
UVa started slowly at the plate. The Cavaliers didn't get a hit off Richmond starter Robbie Baker until the third inning, when Coman led off with the first home run of his college career. Kenny Towns and Daniel Pinero followed with singles, and Papi drew a walk, so the bases were loaded when McCarthy lifted a high fly ball to right.
At first it appeared UR right-fielder Nick Poulos would make a routine catch, but the wind intervened. Poulos kept drifting back, and suddenly he was on the warning track.
"Off the bat, I'm looking up," McCarthy recalled, "and I'm like, `All right, good, sac fly. We get a run. Let's do this.' But I looked down at the right-fielder, and he just keeps running back, and I think that he overplays it too far, so I take off, and it falls over the fence."
It was that kind of night for UVa, which entered the week with 16 home runs in 40 games.
"That's good to see," O'Connor said of his team's power display against VCU and UR. "If you can hit a few balls out of the ballpark, it gives you separation in a ball game."
Now comes perhaps the biggest challenge of the season for Virginia. Sophomore left-hander Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.36 ERA) will start Friday night for UVa. FSU is expected to go with junior right-hander Luke Weaver (6-3, 2.83).
"This is a good test that we got in front of us right now," McCarthy said. "We're going to go in this weekend, we're going to compete, and we're hopefully going to get it done."
Fisher said: "It's going to be pretty special ... The atmosphere that they have down there is pretty cool. It's an atmosphere that's pretty comparable to [Davenport Field] on any given weekend."