CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia pitched superbly in sweeping three games at last weekend's NCAA tournament regional. The opponents, however, were Elon and Army. No offense to the Phoenix or Cadets, but top-25 clubs they were not.
Mississippi State is. The Bulldogs were among 16 No. 1 regional seeds.
Saturday afternoon Mississippi State looked every bit the part, battering Cavaliers pitchers like no other this season in an 11-6 victory in Game 1 of the teams' super regional at Davenport Field.
"It starts with a rhythm at the plate," said Hunter Renfroe, the Bulldogs' right fielder and the No. 13 overall pick of the Major League draft Thursday, to the San Diego Padres.
Well, Renfroe and his teammates had more rhythm Saturday than John Bonham — old-guy music reference — in his prime.
Mississippi State had at least one hit every inning, and its 20 total were the most against Virginia since Coastal Carolina's 20 in 2007. The Cavaliers yielded 21 hits and four runs combined in three regional games.
"That was as good an offensive approach … that we faced this year," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "They were pretty relentless at the plate. They did a heck of a job on two strikes."
And with two outs. The Bulldogs (47-18) went 7-for-16 with two down.
With three singles, a triple and three RBI in five at-bats, Renfroe wasn't even Mississippi State's best Saturday. Shortstop Adam Frazier, drafted in the sixth round Friday by the Pittsburgh Pirates, went an absurd 6-for-6 with three RBI.
Hitting lead-off, Frazier had a single, double and triple in his first three at-bats before closing with a double and two singles. The cycle was his lone failing.
"He's a fire-starter to our lineup," Renfroe said of Frazier.
Saturday he was an arsonist, and his six knocks give him 100 on the season, which sends him past Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark — nice company there — and into third on the school's all-time list.
O'Connor used five pitchers, all freshmen, and as if the Bulldogs' onslaught wasn't enough, Virginia made matters worse by committing a season-high four errors that produced six unearned runs.
"We take pride in handling the ball a lot better than we did today," O'Connor said. "I don't think it had anything to do with nerves."
For Sunday's Game 2, O'Connor will turn to senior southpaw Scott Silverstein, statistically Virginia's best this season. He's 10-1 with a 2.86 ERA and has allowed only four runs in his last 20.2 innings.
ESPN's stats mavens report that 77 percent of Game 1 super regional winners advance to the College World Series. A daunting rate to be sure, but the Cavaliers know the flip side.
In 2009, they won Games 2 and 3 at Ole Miss after dropping the opener. A year later, at home, Virginia lost two straight after topping Oklahoma in the opener.
The Cavaliers (50-11) are 35-4 at home and haven't lost a series at Davenport. This against a schedule that included visits from North Carolina State, Miami and Florida State.
Indeed, Virginia went 8-1 against that trio at home and is quite capable of winning Sunday and Monday to reach Omaha for the third time in five years.
But make no mistake, Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 will bring tension like most of Virginia's every-day players have not experienced. And if they encounter Mississippi State closer Jonathan Holder, well, good luck with that.
A sophomore right-hander, Holder has 17 saves and a 1.17 ERA. Most impressive: He's struck out 39 percent of the hitters he's faced in college, 111 of 283.
Holder has 81 Ks in 46 innings this season, and earlier this season had a 26-inning scoreless stretch. Two blown saves prove he's human, but the Cavaliers would be advised to play from ahead, 23 come-from-behind wins notwithstanding.
Virginia led briefly Saturday at 3-2, only to allow two unearned runs in the third inning after starting pitcher Brandon Waddell couldn't field C.T. Bradford's safety-squeeze bunt cleanly.
An inning later, Cavaliers shortstop Nick Howard began shaking his arm wildly in the field. Turned out he'd been stung by a bee.
That kind of day.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun