OMAHA, Neb. -- Virginia’s Nathan Kirby had a knack for impressive outings throughout the 2014 season. There was the no-hitter at Pittsburgh when he struck out 18 and the eight innings of one-hit work against Arkansas in the regionals only two weeks ago.
For a while Sunday night against Mississippi in the final game of the opening round of the College World Series, it looked as if Kirby would add one more to the list. A single by Errol Robinson in the third inning was the only hit Kirby allowed in seven-plus innings in a 2-1 walk-off win against the Rebels.
But it wasn’t just Kirby. He and Artie Lewicki combined to toss the first one-hitter at the CWS since 1983 when Alabama did so against Arizona State and only the fourth since the first series with aluminum bats in '74.Kirby, the ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year, posted a quality start for the 15th time in 17 starts. He was dominant against an aggressive Ole Miss lineup that hadn’t recorded less than three hits in a game this season and hadn’t been one-hit since 2010 against LSU in the SEC tournament. Kirby allowed only three balls to leave the infield.
“[Kirby] walked three guys and that’s probably a high number for him,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “He’s lights out; he’s thrown a one-hitter, he’s thrown a no-hitter. He’s just tremendous.”
Kirby had a game plan that worked early and often.
“My plan was just to make them beat me,” Kirby said. “And I thought I did a good job in that.”
“I thought Nathan Kirby was really tremendous [Sunday night],” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Certainly in the eighth inning those couple of walks, I'm sure he probably would want those back, but he did a great job of getting us to the eighth inning.”
Heck, even when Ole Miss tied the game in the eighth inning, it was done with back-to-back walks by Kirby, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout by pinch hitter Holt Perdzock. That’s the type of night it was for the Rebels, and at the time -- they were ecstatic. In what was an overwhelmingly red-clad Ole Miss crowd of 23,393 -- in Omaha for the first time since 1972 -- it was all the excitement they’d see.
The one-hitter might be buried considering how Virginia won the game in the bottom of the ninth in the first walk-off hit in the College World Series since 2011. Oddly enough, Virginia was involved in that game, too, when South Carolina walked off against the Cavaliers in 13 innings.
Having left 10 runners on base through eight innings, it looked as if Virginia was wasting too many chances. It’s something the Cavs are used to doing -- Virginia had its 25th game this season finishing with 10 or more runners left on. It was just 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position when Mike Papi strolled up to the plate in the ninth with two outs.
He wasn’t going to let it happen again.
“I had a couple other opportunities earlier in the game,” Papi said. “I was just looking for a pitch in the middle of the plate. I know when I got it that I really got it. I was hoping and praying it’d fall somewhere out there.”
Papi got that pitch from Mississippi’s Aaron Greenwood and smashed a double into the gap in right-center field to score pinch runner Thomas Woodruff for his ACC-leading 55th RBI.
“Every walk-off is awesome,” Papi said. “I’m speechless. But having done it in the College World Series makes it even better.”