Andrew Hutchinson is a multimedia reporter for NWA Media.
Virginia shuts out Arkansas
Teammates congratulate Virginia's Mike Papi (38) as he crosses home plate after hitting a two-run home run 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. Nathan Kirby was too much for Arkansas Saturday night in the Charlottesville Regional.
The left-hander allowed only one hit in eight innings of work and Virginia beat the Razorbacks 3-0. He also struck out nine batters, including the last five he faced.
“He did a good job throwing strikes,” Arkansas first baseman Eric Fisher said. “He did a good job mixing things up, throwing fastballs when he was ahead in the count and throwing curveballs when he was behind in the count. He just kept us on our toes.”
It was the second time this season Arkansas was shutout, after a 1-0 loss to Florida on March 15.
Kirby had a no-hitter through four innings before a leadoff double by Eric Fisher in the fifth inning. Tyler Spoon followed with a ground ball back to the pitcher, but he reached second base when Kirby threw the ball away, putting runners on second and third with no outs.
The Razorbacks did not capitalize on the opportunity, however, as Kirby retired the next three batters in order to end the threat. In fact, Kirby retired the final 12 Arkansas batters he faced.
“Nathan Kirby did an outstanding job,” coach Dave Van Horn said. “He threw a lot of strikes and pitched out of a jam. We had one shot at him…he got out of it with no runs.”
Virginia jumped on Arkansas starter Trey Killian early, scoring two runs in the first inning on a two-run home run by Mike Papi. The Cavaliers collected three first-inning hits and went 4-for-8 the first time through its lineup.
Entering the game, opponents were hitting only .167 the first time through the lineup against Killian.
“The have a good lineup and when you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalize on it,” Killian said.
The Cavaliers had another three hits in the third inning, including an RBI-single by Kenny Towns to give Virginia a 3-0 lead.
Papi finished the game 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Towns and Joe McCarthy also went 2-for-4 at the plate.
While throwing warm-up pitches before the fourth inning, Killian suffered a blister on his throwing hand and he was taken out of the game after retiring the first batter of the inning.
His 3 1/3-inning outing was his shortest since his first start of the season, when he pitched 2 2/3 innings against South Alabama on March 1. Killian allowed seven hits, his second-most of the season after allowing nine in a complete game loss to Ole Miss on May 2.
“I got a blister on one of those warm-up pitches in the bottom of the fourth inning, but before that I just wasn’t myself,” Killian said. “I couldn’t hit my spots and I was trying to be too picky with it.”
The injury forced freshman Dominic Taccolini in the game.
The right-hander retired the first four batters he faced before giving up a two-out single and walk. He settled down, though, and retired the next nine batters in a row.
A two-out single by Towns in the eighth inning gave the Cavaliers’ their only base runner after the sixth. Taccolini finished the game with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.
“It was definitely tough when coach Van Horn called me to go in,” Taccolini said. “I had to get warm kind of quick, but I felt like I pounded the zone and my ball was sinking a lot so I got a lot of ground balls, which always helps.”
Bobby Wernes also had to be taken out of the game in the seventh inning with a back injury originally suffered in the SEC Tournament. He was replaced by freshman Josh Alberius.
Instead of letting Kirby go for the complete game shutout, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor opted for closer Nick Howard, who has 18 saves this season.
It wasn’t a save opportunity, but after giving up a leadoff single to Clark Eagan, Howard got Serrano to ground into a double play and Andrew Benintendi to ground out to the shortstop to end the game.
Eagan’s hit was his first of the Regional and just the Razorbacks’ second of the game.
“We came out and I thought we were aggressive,” Van Horn said. “We took some good swings. We fouled a lot of pitches off. (Kirby) just pitched a great game and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
The Razorbacks announced that Jalen Beeks would make his first start in nearly a month Sunday afternoon. It will be his first outing since giving up five earned runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings against Ole Miss on May 3.
The winner of the Arkansas-Bucknell game must then beat Virginia twice to advance to the Super Regionals. First pitch of the elimination game is scheduled for noon Central, while the first championship game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Central.