CHARLOTTESVILLE — All season, the collection of talent that makes up the core of Virginia’s baseball roster appeared to be a year ahead of schedule. They defied early season expectations and earned one of eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament.
On Saturday, however, Virginia’s arms showed their age, facing the pressure — and potent lineups — that are inevitable with a potential trip to Omaha, hanging in the balance. Undermined by sloppy fielding and a trio of struggling freshmen pitchers, the Cavaliers dropped Game 1 of their best-of-three super regional series against Mississippi State, 11-6, in front of a capacity crowd of 4,956 at Davenport Field.
Virginia (50-11) must win two elimination games over the Bulldogs (47-18) on Sunday and Monday if it wants to advance to the College World Series for the third time in five years.
Pitching will be the key with ace Scott Silverstein (St. John’s) on the mound for Game 2. The Cavaliers allowed a season-high 20 hits to Mississippi State on Saturday, the most they’ve given up in a home game since May 15, 2007.
“That was as good an offensive approach . . . that we faced this year,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said. “When we made mistakes, they made us pay for it.”
Mississippi State leadoff hitter Adam Frazier was the catalyst, going 6 for 6 with three RBI. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe, selected by the San Diego Padres with the No. 13 pick in the MLB draft on Thursday, added four hits and another three RBI.
Virginia’s hitters weren’t held at bay, taking a 3-2 first-inning lead that included a leadoff home run by right fielder Mike Papi. But the Cavaliers had rallies doused in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with double plays. Mississippi State, meanwhile, went 7 for 16 with two outs.
“We just didn’t get that clutch hit,” shortstop Nick Howard (St. John’s) said.
But a leaky defense and a struggling pitching staff made any comeback attempt nearly impossible. The Cavaliers committed a season-high four errors, including one by starter Brandon Waddell in the third inning when the Bulldogs regained the lead for good. Six of Mississippi State’s 11 runs Saturday were unearned.
The Bulldogs tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning to end Waddell’s day and freshmen relievers Josh Sborz (McLean) and David Rosenberger were also ineffective, allowing 12 combined hits and two earned runs over 31 / 3 innings.
“Had we been able to manage that [fourth] inning a little bit better, maybe it would’ve been a different story,” O’Connor said.
By the time the carnage was complete, Renfroe had grown so comfortable in Charlottesville that he asked Bulldogs Coach Jon Cohen during his postgame news conference if Mississippi State might consider installing the same large center field wall that looms over Davenport Field.
O’Connor, meanwhile, was left to ponder how his young team will respond with its season on the line the next two days.
“We don’t really look at it as an elimination game,” he said. “It is, but regardless you have to win two games this weekend and it’s been pretty rare for us not to win a series.”