CHARLOTTESVILLE — Top regional seed and host Virginia got just enough out of its offense to combine with a strong starting performance from freshman hurler Brandon Waddell, as the Cavaliers held off No. 4 seed Army 2-1 in Friday's opening game of the NCAA Charlottesville Regional.
Waddell struck out eight Army batters in seven innings of work, and U.Va. got nine hits, including three plus an RBI from freshman Joe McCarthy, despite leaving 11 runners on base.
Reliever Kyle Crockett, a Poquoson High grad, came on to pick up his 11th save of 2013, striking out the side in the ninth to close out the contest.
The Cavaliers improved to 48-10 overall, and will move on to the winners bracket to face Elon at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"What a great college baseball game to open up the regional," said Virginia coach Brian O'Connor. "Obviously, it was a real pitchers' duel. ... It was a great game. It was very well played defensively. We certainly had numerous opportunities to break the game open a little bit, but just couldn't get that big hit. I'm just so proud of our guys. We played like we have all year and found a way to win the game."
The Black Knights (29-22), appearing in the Charlottesville Regional for a second straight season, will try to stay alive in Saturday's first elimination game against UNCW at 1 p.m.
Waddell (6-2), the Cavaliers' opening-day Feb. 15, got the nod Friday and cruised through all but two innings (Army went three-up, three-down in five of his seven frames), but got himself out of his only two jams while giving up just one run. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound southpaw from Houston allowed just three hits and walked none.
"It feels the same," Waddell said of the pressure entering his first postseason contest, while giving the credit to his catcher, Nate Irving, who went 2-for-3 with a run scored. "Looking back at all the experiences I have had throughout the year, it is still the same game, the game I have played my whole life. You have to go out there and know what your job is. It is to make pitches and keep your team in the game. You have to go back to that mindset and control what you can control."
Army threatened in the top half of the second as the first two batters reached on a single and hit-batsman, and then each moved into scoring position on a Jacob Page sacrifice bunt. Waddell went on to strike out the next man up, Andrew Johnson, and then forced a groundout to short to get out unharmed.
The Black Knights got on the board first in the fifth as Page led off with a single off Waddell's glove and into center field. Two batters later, Grant Van Orden's sacrifice squeeze scored a hustling Page to make it 1-0, but that's all the visitors would get after Waddell fanned left fielder Jon Crucitti for the third out and a runner stranded at second.
It didn't take long for the Cavs to answer, as sophomore third baseman Kenny Towns — who made two solid defensive plays to start both the third and fourth innings — got things started with a stand-up, lead-off double that rolled to the warning track in left center. Irving followed with what O'Connor referred to as the hit of the game, a single to center that moved Towns to third.
Back at the top of the order, left fielder Mike Papi drove in his 55th RBI of the season — and first career NCAA tournament hit — to tie the game on the next at-bat, and then senior first baseman Jared King walked to load the bases with still nobody out.
McCarthy, the ACC freshman of the year, then brought home the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run with a single that dropped in front of Army right fielder Michael Sands before the Knights finally got out of the inning on a pair of big strikeouts by starter Chris Rowley and then a huge catch by Page in center field on the run that may have blown the game open.
"[Rowley] probably didn't think he pitched up to his capability in this game last year, and he certainly did today," O'Connor said in reference to U.Va.'s 9-1 victory to open the 2012 Charlottesville Regional against Army. "Fortunately, Brandon Waddell was just as good or better than Rowley today."
McCarthy, who was 3-for-3 and reached base safely in all four plate appearances (walked in the third) and owned the nation's third-best on-base percentage by a freshman (.455) coming into the game.
"Joe McCarthy is one of the toughest, competitive players we have had here in 10 years," O'Connor said. "He is an animal. He shows up every day ready to play and competes. But he has a real maturity about himself in the batter's box. He doesn't let negative things affect him; he just gets ready for the next pitch."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun