Virginia sophomore Nathan Kirby said Saturday night didn’t feel like April 4, when he threw a no-hitter against Pittsburgh. There wasn’t a special sensation during warmups this time. He strayed away from the game plan at times, falling behind hitters. He conceded he may have gotten lucky on occasion.
But the Cavaliers’ ace spun another gem Saturday night at Davenport Field, leaving No. 2 seed Arkansas befuddled at the plate as top-seeded Virginia collected a 3-0 victory over the Razorbacks to move within one win of advancing to next week’s super regionals.
The Cavaliers (46-13) will play Sunday night against the winner of a matinee elimination game between Arkansas and No. 4 seed Bucknell with lefty Brandon Waddell and a rested bullpen set to take the mound. They can only hope to replicate their teammate’s performance.
Kirby, the co-ACC pitcher of the year, was ruthlessly effective, allowing just one hit over eight scoreless innings while striking out nine on 96 pitches. The southpaw set down Arkansas in order six times and only got stronger as the night wore on, using a fastball that topped out at 94 mph early and mixing in a backdoor slider late.
“He was pitching like a No. 1 starter does at this level,” Coach Brian O’Connor said.
The Midlothian, Va., native retired the final 12 batters he faced, the last five via strikeouts before closer Nick Howard (St. John’s) pitched the ninth inning. Howard’s 19th save set a single-season school record.
Arkansas (39-24) had just one inning in which runners advanced past first base. Kirby (9-1, 1.36 ERA), barely flinched in the top of the fifth after allowing a leadoff double and watching his own throwing error on a grounder up the middle give the Razorbacks runners on second and third and no outs.
He struck out Arkansas third baseman Bobby Wernes, forced a lineout by catcher Jake Wise and induced a grounder against shortstop Michael Bernal to get out of his only jam of the game.
“Getting in a groove, you don’t have to think as much when you’re out there,” Kirby said. “I was just trying to throw the ball around the plate and get ahead and force them to try and get a hit. Fortunately enough, they missed a couple pitches.”
Virginia’s lineup found its groove early against Arkansas starter Trey Killian, scoring three runs on seven hits in the first three innings.
First baseman Mike Papi was at the center of the action, hitting a two-run home run in the first inning and scoring on an RBI single by third baseman Kenny Towns in the third inning.
Killian left the game in the fourth inning with a blister on his right hand. It mattered little with Kirby rolling.
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