Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Cavaliers' pitcher manhandles Hogs
Virginia's Nathan Kirby pitches during the first inning of an NCAA college baseball regional tournament game against Arkansas in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, May 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Pat Jarrett)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia ace Nathan Kirby shut down Arkansas on one hit through eight innings and Mike Papi hit a home run and scored twice Saturday as the No. 4 Cavaliers moved into the championship round of their NCAA regional tournament with a 3-0 victory over the Razorbacks.
The national No. 3 seed Cavaliers (46-13) improved to 31-3 at Davenport Field and advanced to the 7 p.m. Central game tonight against the winner of the noon elimination game between Arkansas and Bucknell.
“I think we’re in a very, very good position from a pitching standpoint,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said.
Arkansas (39-24), which was shut out for the second time this season, will have to win three consecutive games to advance out of the Charlottesville Regional.
“We’ve been here before in past years,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “The challenge really is the quick turnaround. Now we’re trying to get over a loss and a tough game.”
Kirby (9-1) finished strong, striking out his final five batters to wrap up his night at 96 pitches before a boisterous home crowd of 4,579. The left-handed sophomore struck out nine and retired the final 12 hitters he faced before giving way to closer Nick Howard, who allowed an infield single by Clark Eagan and then got a double-play grounder to notch his 19th save.
“I was throwing the pitch that was called and there wasn’t much beyond that,” said Kirby, who had an 18-strikeout, no-hit game in a 4-0 victory at Pittsburgh this season.
“He was executing what we asked him to do,” O’Connor said. “He was pitching like a No. 1 starter at this level.”
Papi hit a two-run home run off Trey Killian (4-9) in the first inning and singled and scored in the third to spark Virginia’s nine-hit offense.
“It’s just being aggressive, trying to put pressure on the other pitcher,” Papi said.
Killian developed a blister on his pitching hand warming up for the fourth inning and came out after retiring one batter in the fourth, making a second short stint for an Arkansas starter in the regional.
The Cavaliers evened their record against Arkansas at 1-1, getting a measure of revenge for their 4-3 elimination loss to the Razorbacks in 12 innings at the 2009 College World Series.
Kirby held Arkansas hitless through four innings before Eric Fisher smacked a shot inside the first-base bag to lead off the fifth with a double. Kirby, who had been firmly in command before that, suddenly found himself in trouble when he threw wildly to first base on a comebacker off the bat of Tyler Spoon for a twobase error, putting runners at second and third with no outs.
Kirby stayed composed and struck out Bobby Wernes, retired Jake Wise on a firstpitch line drive to second baseman Branden Cogswell and got Michael Bernal on a grounder to third.
“He did a good job of continuing to throw strikes and didn’t let two guys on base really bother him,” Fisher said. “He did a good job getting the first guy out, then it’s unfortunate that we hit a ball just right to a guy the second time. … He just did a good job getting out of it.”
“We had one shot at him,” Van Horn said.
A sophomore left-hander and first-team Louisville Slugger All-American, Kirby had to work only the first inning without a lead.
The Cavaliers got good swings off Killian from the start. Cogswell led off with a hard-hit single to left-center, but he was gunned out at second on a strong pivot and throw by center fielder Andrew Benintendi. The third baseman Wernes couldn’t come up with Daniel Pinero’s hard-hit short-hop grounder to set the table for Papi.
Killian fired a 3-1 pitch to Papi, and the left-handed hitting first baseman deposited it well over the wall in right field for a 2-0 lead.
“That was supposed to be a fastball inside and that was my mistake,” Killian said. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t hitting my spots.”
The Cavaliers stretched it to 3-0 in the third inning as Papi hit a one-out single, then scored after consecutive twoout singles by Derek Fisher and Kenny Towns.
A bright spot for Arkansas was the work of freshman reliever Dominic Taccolini, who entered in the fourth and held Virginia to two singles in 4 2/3 shutout innings. Taccolini retired nine consecutive batters before giving up a two-out single to Towns in the eighth.
“I felt like I was pounding the zone and my ball was sinking a lot, so I got a lot of ground balls, which always helps, because I’ve got a great defense behind me,” Taccolini said.
Arkansas will start junior left-hander Jalen Beek today against Bucknell. Beeks, 5-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts, hasn’t pitched since May 3 at Ole Miss because of an elbow injury.
Sports on 06/01/2014