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Duane Cross | | June 18, 2014

Cross: Virginia shows off pitching depth

  Brandon Waddell gave up two runs (one earned) in seven innings before making way for the bullpen.

OMAHA, Neb. -- If the 2014 College World Series is going to be an arms race, Virginia made a statement Tuesday night.

On the surface, the Cavaliers outlasted TCU 3-2 in a CWS record-tying 15 innings. However, a deeper dive into the box score shows that the Hoos blanked the Horned Frogs for 13 consecutive innings, including eight shutout frames by the UVa. bullpen.

It was, in a word, impressive.

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“Wow, that was a heck of a baseball game,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I mean, both teams really fought and battled.

“[Brandon] Waddell gives up the two runs in the second inning, and then continues to fight and make some good adjustments and gives us seven strong innings,” O’Connor continued. “Everybody we brought out of the pen did a nice job.”

Those two runs Waddell allowed were his only blemishes in seven innings. After that, O’Connor made three trips to the mound to change pitchers and each performed near-flawlessly.

• Nick Howard – four innings, one hit, one walk, six strikeouts.

• Whit Mayberry – two innings, two hits, one walk, two strikeouts.

• Artie Lewicki – two innings, no hits, no walks, two strikeouts.

“Yeah, premium arms, it's hard to get upset at your offense when you're facing that kind of pitching,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The pitching was smothering.”

Howard, a first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds earlier this month, was the catalyst for the UVa. relief corps. “My goal was just to go out there and attack the first guy,” he said of facing TCU’s Boomer White to lead off the eighth inning. “If I did that, their chances of scoring would definitely go down, so I was definitely focused on that first guy.

“But that was great – a lot of adrenaline, and I think everybody was running off adrenaline by the end of the game.”

Howard’s four-inning stint was his longest of the season – and between innings he was focused on rinse and repeat, not if he’d just thrown his final pitch of the game.

“At that point, I’m not thinking about it,” said Howard, who entered the game with 30.2 innings pitched in 28 appearances. “As long as my number keeps getting called, I was going to go out there and throw strikes and do the job. But there wasn’t very much conversation going on between innings.”

In three NCAA tournament games, Howard has not allowed a run in 6.1 innings and has tallied seven strikeouts.

Backed up by Mayberry, a 21st-round choice of the Detroit Tigers, and Lewicki, an eighth-round pick of the Tigers, the Cavaliers’ bullpen has been key in close games. As a result, Virginia is 51-14, including 26-9 in games decided by three runs or fewer and 6-1 in extra innings.

Eight innings, only five base runners allowed and 10 strikeouts from the bullpen – that’s championship-caliber relief. Ponder that UVa. now gets to rest until 8 p.m. ET Friday … yes, the Cavaliers are well-positioned to make a run at the CWS Finals.

“You’ve got to find a break in this World Series these days,” O’Connor surmised. “It's just … they're just tough to win, and I’m really proud of our guys that we found a way.

“We threw everything we had at them – Howard and Mayberry and Lewicki. I felt that this game, the 1-0 game to go 2-0 is really important, and it gives you an extra day’s rest. You don’t have to play again until [Friday], and obviously you have the upper hand.

“I know the two teams [TCU and Ole Miss] still in our bracket are not going to go away, but just really proud of our club. They’ve grinded all year, and [Tuesday] was another great example of that.”

In a championship that has seen 2,341 pitches – 1,482 for strikes (63 percent) – through eight games, it should not be a surprise that pounding the zone is a key ingredient to teams’ survive-and-advance mentality in Omaha. And Tuesday night, the Hoos played to their strength, as title contenders do.

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