CHARLOTTESVILLE — As University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor pointed out after his team’s second close win in as many days on its home field, wins aren’t handed to you – sometimes, you’ve got to earn them.
On Saturday night, the top-seeded Cavaliers did just that against No. 3 Elon in the winners’ bracket of the Charlottesville Regional, claiming their 34th win of the season at Davenport Field with a 2-0 shutout, snapping the Phoenix’s season-long six-game winning streak.
The shutout was Virginia's ninth of the season.
“Really proud of our team,” said O’Connor. “It’s amazing this time of year, it doesn’t come easy. We just have to hang in there. The sign of a really good ball club is one that finds a way to win in different ways.”
The Cavaliers (49-10), who could wrap things up with another winners’ bracket victory Sunday at 6 p.m., will await the winner of a 1 p.m. elimination game between UNC-Wilmington and Elon.
The top of the fourth was the big inning on Saturday, as the Cavs finally broke through with two runs driven in by the bottom of the lineup. Sophomore shortstop Nick Howard legged out a one-out infield single, and then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
No. 8 batter Kenny Towns plated Howard with a standup double to left field – his 40th RBI of the season – to put the home team on the board. Catcher Nate Irving then picked up the third consecutive Cavalier hit, an RBI single to center that scored Towns, and that turned out to be all the offense the ‘Hoos needed.
With nothing doing for either team through the first two innings, Virginia had a chance to break the scoreless tie with two outs in the top half of the third, but sophomore designated hitter Derek Fisher struck out looking with the bases loaded for the second day in a row.
In the bottom of the frame, the Phoenix (33-29) collected a pair of base hits and a free pass, and also loaded the bases with two gone. However, U.Va. starting pitcher Scott Silverstein, a redshirt senior, was able to cause Elon cleanup batter Sebastian Gomez to ground out for the final out.
The Cavaliers had another opportunity slip away in the fifth, as Joe McCarthy and Brandon Downes hit back-to-back singles with one out, but Elon senior hurler Spencer Medick got help from second baseman Chris Bresnahan, who snared consecutive line shots up the middle to end the threat.
Medick tossed a complete game (129 pitches, his longest outing in 2013), allowing nine hits and striking out four Cavalier batters.
In the bottom of the fifth, Elon had two runners in scoring position with just one out, but Gomez lined out to Virginia senior second baseman Reed Gragnani, who made up for an error two batters earlier which put runners at second and third.
The Phoenix got the would-be go-ahead run to the plate again in the bottom of the sixth, but Silverstein recorded his fifth and six strikeouts before forcing a Bresnahan fly out to right, and Elon had left its 12th and 13th batters of the night aboard. The Phoenix went 2 for 18 (.111) with runners aboard on Saturday.
It would be Silverstein’s last pitch of the night, as he gave up just six hits and allowed no runs and walked only two of the 27 batters he faced. It earned him a team-best 10th victory on the mound this season and first ever in NCAA Tournament competition in his five years as a member of the squad.
“That’s the reason I came to Virginia,” said Silverstein. “Whether it’s the first year or the fifth year, that’s the environment I came to play in.”
Added O’Connor: “I’m so proud of Scott Silverstein, he’s come so far and for him to be on the mound, I just hated taking the ball from him after six innings but he had done his job.”
Elon’s No. 3 hitter, Ryan Kinsella, smoked a two-out pitch – the first he saw – from freshman Wahoo reliever Josh Sborz in the bottom of the seventh, but Downes was there right in front of the wall in center field to maintain the shutout.
“We had some opportunities, we just didn’t finish,” said Elon skipper Mike Kennedy.
Then in the bottom of the eighth, Elon’s Alex Swim came through with a one-out single following a gritty, nine-pitch at-bat, and the tying run stepped into the batter’s box in Antonio Alvarez. Alvarez, who was one of the offensive stars in Elon’s Friday victory, grounded into an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.
Crockett came on to pitch the final two innings and struck out the side in the ninth for the second straight night, picking up his 12th save of the year and second in as many nights. O’Connor wouldn’t rule out a third straight appearance by the lefty on Sunday, should the situation present itself.
“We’ve had some really special closers here and this is no disrespect to any of them, but this guy is the best,” said O’Connor, “and his results have shown that all year long.”
Redshirt right-handed junior Whit Mayberry (4-0 in 21 appearances in 2013) will get the start on Sunday, according to O’Connor.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun