CHARLOTTESVILLE –At the crack of the bat, Maryland center fielder Charlie White got a good read on the ball, sprinted toward the gap in right-center field and decided on the run, “I could catch it if I laid out.”
Coach John Szefc had previously seen his center fielder attempt — and complete — such feats. But not on this stage, with the bases loaded and an ace struggling to locate pitches in the program’s first super regional appearance. On the mound, senior Jake Stinnett wondered if the first inning was about to turn into “a nightmare.”
Maryland still had plenty more to do Saturday before it could hold off No. 3 national seed Virginia, 5-4, in Game 1 of a best-of-three super regional series at Davenport Field. But the Terrapins wouldn’t be one win away from securing an unlikely berth in the College World Series without White’s diving grab that turned into an inning-ending double play.
The Cavaliers had already tied the score at 1 after Stinnett hit consecutive batters for the first time all season, and they looked primed to inflict more damage with runners on every base and just one out. But White somehow tracked down a sinking line drive off the bat of third baseman Kenny Towns, and when Virginia first baseman Mike Papi was late to tag up off of third base, Papi was thrown out at the plate on a relay throw by Maryland shortstop Blake Schmit to quell the threat.
“That was basically Charlie White’s inning,” said Szefc after the senior scored following a leadoff double in the top half of the first frame. “That catch was as good as hitting a double with the bases loaded, because he took two runs off the board. That might not show up in his offensive statistic column, but everybody in that dugout knows how important that catch was to the outcome of that game.”
But White, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball draft Saturday afternoon, also scored two runs on three hits. The Terrapins (40-21) added in a three-run fourth inning, regaining a 4-2 advantage when designated hitter Kyle Convissar’s bunt completed a safety squeeze and sophomore Anthony Papio’s RBI double scored left fielder Tim Lewis.
Virginia ace Nathan Kirby allowed a season-high five earned runs, tied his season high by giving up seven hits and couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning, his shortest outing of the year. Stinnett didn’t have his best stuff either, but he battled through six innings, allowing three runs — two earned — on 117 pitches. He credited White for changing the momentum.
“I just had trouble finding the zone, and a play like that is just awesome,” Stinnett said.
The Cavaliers (47-14) were done in by a lack of clutch hitting, although Papi made things interesting in the bottom half of the eighth inning with an RBI single off Maryland closer Kevin Mooney. Papi reached base all five times he stepped to the plate Saturday, but Virginia left 14 men on base and went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday at noon in Charlottesville.
Maryland “escaped a lot of jams today,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said. “They’ve shown an ability to wiggle and figure things out to not have the big inning. . . . We had opportunities, certainly, to really open it up with another big hit and have a multi-run inning and we just couldn’t do it.”