www.baltimoresun.com/sports/college/football/dp-spt-teel-column-uva-base-advance-20130531,0,729818.column

baltimoresun.com

Virginia, Army have 'unfinished business' in NCAA baseball regional

David Teel

May 31, 2013

Advertisement

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Derek Fisher's handicapping of Virginia's NCAA baseball regional this weekend is hit-the-cutoff-man basic and borders on cliché.

"It's going to come down to one or two runs, we know that," Fisher, a designated hitter and outfielder, said Thursday after practice at Davenport Field. "It's going to come down to one pitch, one at-bat and hopefully it turns out our way."

Before dismissing Fisher's analysis, consider last season's NCAA tournament.

Hosting a regional for the third consecutive year, Virginia opened with a 9-1 dusting of Army before falling to Appalachian State 6-5 and Oklahoma 5-4.

One run. One pitch. One at-bat.

The consecutive defeats, the Cavaliers' first such streak in nearly two months, ended their season and denied them a fourth straight super regional. Fisher, then a freshman, went 0-for-15 at the plate, leaving eight runners on base.

"I think I maybe tried to do too much," said Fisher, a 2011 sixth-round draft choice of the Texas Rangers out of high school in Pennsylvania. "That was a really good experience, not only for myself, but also to share with some of the young guys and freshmen that are going to be in big spots for us this weekend. …

"I wouldn't say it was disappointing. … I think we learned a lot as a bunch of young guys. … For our sophomore class to come out and play the way we have (this season), the leaders that we have. I think it's really helped us."

Virginia's lineup in Friday's 1 p.m. NCAA opener against Army figures to include six sophomores and two freshmen, including rookie left-hander Brandon Waddell on the mound. So the youth Fisher mentioned will be critical, especially against Army's senior ace, Chris Rowley (9-3, 2.68 ERA).

That same youth has excelled this season, elevating the Cavaliers (47-10) to this tournament's No. 6 overall seed. Outfielder and lead-off man Mike Papi embodies Virginia's inexperience and depth, traits that are not incompatible.

Papi, a sophomore, began 2013 as a reserve. But in the opener of a mid-March series at Clemson, he singled in the tying run as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter and drove in the winning run with an 11th-inning home run.

"Coach thought he'd give me an opportunity, see what I could do," Papi said, "and he hasn't taken me out since."

Brian O'Connor need not have summoned his inner Jim Leyland to keep Papi in the lineup. Papi made it easy, with dramatic grand slams against Wake Forest and Old Dominion and a 20-for-32 stretch that coincided with a 10-game hitting streak.

A first-team All-ACC selection, Papi leads the conference in batting average (.400) and slugging percentage (.645). His .536 on-base percentage is Division I's best.

"That's why it's worked out for Mike Papi," O'Connor said, "because he had the right attitude even when he wasn't playing, and he was prepared for his opportunity. Certainly his development this year has been pretty impressive, it's been fun to watch, as good as anybody we've had."

Papi was hitting clean-up as a freshman before a back injury shelved him for the year, costing him his first postseason. So he welcomed last week's ACC tournament appetizer and went 4-for-13 with three RBI as Virginia rebounded from a loss to Virginia Tech with victories over Georgia Tech and Florida State.

Waddell's first postseason experience was a little rougher. He allowed 10 hits in four innings against the Hokies, absorbing his second defeat.

But O'Connor isn't about to alter the top of his rotation.

Waddell "started the opening game of our season as a true freshman," O'Connor said. "We could tell pretty quickly when this young man got here that he had a tremendous amount of poise. … Nothing fazes him. … He's got the poise and maturity to handle the situation."

As does Army's Rowley, a right-hander whose only loss in 12 decisions last season came against Virginia here in the NCAA tournament, where he allowed six runs, walked five and hit four batters in six innings. A second-team All-American in 2012, Rowley pitched last summer for the Peninsula Pilots, compiling a 2-1 record and 1.59 ERA in six appearances.

"His best attribute is fearlessness," Pilots coach Hank Morgan said. "He may get beat, but it won't be because he shriveled in the moment. Awesome leader, fierce competitor."

Of his second chance against the Cavaliers, Rowley said: "I look at it as unfinished business."

The same applies to Virginia after last season's regional defeats.

"Our expectations are higher for us," Fisher said, "than anybody else's could be."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP