CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia baseball Coach Brian O’Connor first got an inkling his offense might be coming around this week in practice, when the Cavaliers’ cavalcade of pitchers couldn’t seem to get his hitters out anymore. But he never thought it would involve so many bunts.
The top-seeded Cavaliers moved into the winner’s bracket of the NCAA tournament’s Charlottesville regional, cruising past No. 4 seed Bucknell, 10-1, at Davenport Field on Friday without the help of an extra base hit.
Virginia (45-13) will take on No. 2 seed Arkansas (39-23) on Saturday with a chance to advance to the regional final. The Razorbacks defeated No. 3 seed Liberty, 3-2, on Friday night.
The Cavaliers executed four sacrifice bunts in the first four innings against Bucknell (30-20-1), then broke open the game after a wild throw by Bison third baseman Sam Clark trying to complete a wheel play on another bunt by catcher Nate Irving during a seven-run sixth inning.
Virginia’s leadoff hitters reached base in each of the first seven innings, a rarity for a lineup that produced in fits and starts this season.
“You were all probably wondering after the first four or five innings or so if we were trying to set a record for sacrifice bunts in an NCAA game. I’m not quite sure what the record is, but we were going for it,” joked O’Connor, noting the small ball approach was the result of circumstance, not planning.
“Even if they didn’t have a hit, everybody in our lineup did something to help our team win offensively today.”
First baseman Mike Papi led the charge, going 3 for 5 with an RBI single. Left fielder Derek Fisher added a two-run single during Virginia’s sixth-inning onslaught, and designated hitter John La Prise went 3 for 4 and scored two runs.
Bucknell provided little support for starting pitcher Bryson Hough (W.T. Woodson). Five of the six runs he allowed were unearned as the Bison committed four errors.
That cushion proved to be plenty for Virginia starter Artie Lewicki, who put together a gem after walking two of the first four batters he faced in the first inning. The senior pitched seven scoreless innings, gave up just three hits and struck out five.
“In between the first and second inning, [pitching coach Karl Kuhn] pulled me underneath and told me he was gonna take me off his Christmas card list if I didn’t go out and start competing and going after the hitters,” Lewicki said with a smile.
● MARYLAND 4, OLD DOMINION 3: Monarchs closer Brad Gero hit a pair of batters with the bases loaded in the ninth to bring home the tying and winning runs in the Terrapins’ victory at the NCAA tournament’s Columbia, S.C., regional.
Maryland (37-21) trailed 3-1 entering the final inning when Charlie White’s RBI single started the three-run rally. Gero then loaded the bases with a walk to LaMonte Wade, and he hit Brandon Lowe with a pitch to tie it at 3. With the next pitch, Gero plunked Maryland third baseman Jose Cuas and touched off a celebration as the Terrapins won in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1971.
Maryland will face No. 1 seed South Carolina after the Gamecocks beat Campbell, 5-2. Old Dominion plays an elimination game Saturday in its first NCAA tournament trip since 2000.
Old Dominion (36-25) built a 3-0 lead through seven innings before Maryland’s comeback.