Virginia pitchers have one complete game the last two seasons combined, a stretch of 116 contests. Chris Rowley, Army’s almost-certain starter Friday versus the Cavaliers in the NCAA tournament, has completed 12 of 28 outings in the same two years.
In short, Virginia will face an accomplished, dependable and familiar workhorse.
Familiar because Rowley started a NCAA tournament game last season against the Cavaliers. Virginia dusted Army 9-1, roughing up Rowley for six runs in as many innings.
A 6-foot-2 senior, the right-handed Rowley doomed his own cause by walking five and hitting four batters. It was his sole defeat in an 11-1, All-American season in which he pitched to a 2.40 ERA, completed six of 15 starts and threw five shutouts.
Army competes in the Patriot League, which pales to the ACC’s steady diet of top-25 opponents. But Rowley’s numbers were too good to ignore, and this season he’s been similarly effective with a 9-3 record, 2.68 ERA, six complete games in 15 starts and two shutouts.
“He’s been very, very consistent in his career,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said Tuesday. “Last year he was an All-American and had All-American kind of numbers. This year it looks like he’s doing about the same thing.
“He doesn’t walk anybody. Doesn’t give up many home runs. He’s got pinpoint control, he’s got a good, sinking fastball, a slider. His velocity’s not going to overpower you, although it’s good. He’s going to rely on contact and using his slider and two-seam fastball to get guys to hit ground balls. He looks like he controls the running game very well. He hasn’t given up a lot of stolen bases this year.”
O’Connor’s right. Rowley has walked only 18 in 90.2 innings while allowing two home runs and eight stolen bases.
Rowley’s been even better recently, winning seven consecutive starts since a loss to Navy. He’s allowed only 11 earned runs in his last 54 innings and was MVP of the Patriot League tournament, in which he threw two complete-game victories.
Those tournament starts were eight days apart – the Patriot League semifinals and finals are both best-of-3 – and Rowley threw 124 pitches and 148 pitches.
So what happened last May in Charlottesville?
“We fortunately had a good approach against him last year,” O’Connor said. “I think it was more a result of how we train our hitters. Not that we take a bunch of pitches but we really try and condition our guys to not swing at pitches off the plate, to be disciplined. I think it was more a matter of him just missing rather than someone who was really wild.”
With more pitching depth than his Army counterpart, Joe Sottlolano, O’Connor has the luxury of leaning on his bullpen and not pushing his starters. Even at his dominant best, Virginia’s Danny Hultzen didn’t throw a complete game in 2011 en route to becoming the No. 2 pick of the Major League draft by the Seattle Mariners.
But that doesn’t minimize Rowley’s endurance and toughness, or the respect that O’Connor has for Army and all service academy athletes.
“The service academies that are competing at this level of athletics, there’s no schools, no programs that you have more respect for than them,” O’Connor said. “We can talk all we want about what a student-athlete has on his plate at the University of Virginia or any other university, (but) it pales in comparison to what these young people have on their plate.
“Take all the academics and all the athletics and then add all the training and everything that a student-athlete has to do at a service academy. … It’s pretty special. To think that these are the types of institutions that develop our leaders and people that are going to be fighting for our country … it’s really impressive. You know what these kids are made of and you have the utmost respect for them. …
“They ain’t gonna back down from anybody. They will not be intimidated by the University of Virginia.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including Wednesday's on Virginia baseball's winning culture.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun