CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- In the first game and a half of the Super Regional, Virginia’s offense seemed on the verge of breaking through. The Cavaliers had plenty of good at bats, though not enough hits in a row. They were hitting the ball hard, though right at Maryland defenders.
Then after Maryland tied Sunday’s game in the bottom of the fifth inning, the offense finally started to come together as expected for coach Brian O’Connor’s Cavaliers. Virginia topped Maryland 7-3 on Sunday to stave off elimination and force a decisive Game 3 on Monday.For O’Connor, it was all about remaining confident that things would start to break the right way. He said that on a personal level, this time of year is always one filled with anxiety, but Saturday night into Sunday was the most calm he had felt before a Super Regional game, even knowing a loss meant the season was over.
“I shared with them that I really believed that we were going to come out today and we were going to come out on top,” O’Connor said.
That mentality was not lost on his players.
“Our coaching staff had so much calmness and confidence in us today coming into the game,” Virginia junior Mike Papi said. “We were able to keep our approach, and being experienced players, we know that there is a lot on the line and that this could possibly be our last game, so we were going to leave it all on the field.”
The Hoos’ offense kept plugging away, and after the game was tied 1-1 through five, they scored in each inning from the sixth on, including a three-spot in the seventh – the first time in the Super Regional they scored more than one run in an inning.
In the seventh, Derek Fisher had a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to plate Daniel Pinero, followed by RBI singles from Kenny Towns and Brandon Downes. All of the runs were charged to Maryland starter Mike Shawaryn, who left the game with the bases loaded.
“I had a lot of confidence today,” said Towns, who went 3-for-5 with a double. “Yesterday we were squaring the ball up but they weren’t really falling for us. Everybody did a good job of sticking with our approach today.”
Pinera also went 3-for-5 with two runs scored, and Fisher went 2-for-4. As a team, the Cavaliers were 9-for-27 with runners on and 2-for-3 with someone on third and less than two outs.
Papi continued his hot streak, after having reached base in all five appearances on Saturday, going 3-for-5 on Sunday. He was in the middle of scoring plays yet again, knocking in a run on a single in the third and scoring the second run of the seventh.
Virginia starter Brandon Waddell allowed seven hits and walked three in his 5.2 innings, but prevented damage enough to hold the Terps to one run. Two double plays on infield lineouts helped that cause in the third and fourth innings.
Then O’Connor made a surprising decision – he brought in Artie Lewicki to pitch. Lewicki was expected to be a Game 3 starter, if necessary.
“I made that decision because you’re in a one-game season right now,” O’Connor said. “And we’ve got a lot of confidence in Artie that he’s going to go out there and throw strikes.”
It’s just another example of O’Connor’s belief in his team to come out on top, no matter who is pitching. With Monday’s starter up in the air for the moment, even if O’Connor is concerned about it, he didn’t show it.
“I really wasn’t worried about tomorrow.” O’Connor said. “I know it’s about winning the series, but tomorrow we have an opportunity to show what a complete pitching staff we have.”
Lewicki retired the first seven batters he faced before giving up two runs that turned out not to matter in the ninth inning.
The win was Virginia’s first in three tries against Maryland this season. Maryland won in the ACC tournament in addition to Saturday, both by one run. The winner of Monday’s game will move on to the College World Series in Omaha.