I still hate faceoffs, but it'd be utterly inappropriate to start off with anything but Nathan Kirby here. There was plenty of legitimate concern about Kirby last year; he came in with such hype and fell flatter than his very hittable fastball. I'm not the sharpest bulb in the shed, but I think it's safe to say that Kirby, already having put those doubts in the past for the most part, blew away their final shreds with a vengeance.
On Friday night I was debating with myself: should I write a lacrosse game preview or take the path of least resistance and watch the baseball game? As you might've guessed, there was no Friday post, and I'm not even a little bit sorry. Kirby's 18-K no-hitter makes a strong case for the single most dominant pitching performance in UVA history; he was an error and a walk away from a perfect game, and eight strikeouts ahead of Will Roberts's performance in his perfecto from 2011.
(The case for Roberts states that exactly one ball left the infield, which is two fewer flyballs than Kirby allowed, and furthermore the left side of the infield was almost totally unemployed. Second baseman Keith Werman had seven assists, but Chris Taylor and Steven Proscia on the other side only combined for one - Proscia's.)
In fact, the closest thing to a hit all day was probably the very last batter. #9 hitter Manny Pazos, leading off the ninth, hit a fly ball that looked like trouble live, but on replay from a different angle it was clear that Joe McCarthy had a bead on it all the way and didn't need to expend much effort to snag it. Really, it was Dylan Wolsonovich's grounder to short that looked like the toughest play of the evening, and Daniel Pinero made easy work of it. Good thing, because if I'd had to pick the kind of batter I'd least want at the plate with one out to go in a no-hitter, it'd be the scrappy, speedy little bugger of the kind that populates so many middle infields on ball teams everywhere. You know he's not gonna strike out, he's gonna make you work for it, and he's gonna chug as fast as he can down the basepath. Kirby struck out everyone at least once - but Wolsonovich only once.
Kirby was quoted afterwards as saying, "I wanted to let the hitters hit it and let our defense play," which is funny because 18 strikeouts. Nice plan, looks like you really stuck to that one. Better theory: he watched his infield make a rare error in the first inning and decided, fine, I'll do this myself; he stepped out for the second inning and didn't stop striking people out til the fifth. The end of the 10-man strikeout streak (a Jordan Frabasilio groundout) was the first time the idea of a potential no-hitter popped into my head; prior, I was too busy laughing in disbelief as the path from home plate back to the Pitt dugout turned into a five-lane superhighway.
Kirby's performance drew comparisons - from me, basically - to a left-handed Max Scherzer. When Scherzer's mowing people down, his pitches don't look, at first glance, like anything special. He has a slight tail to his fastball, which isn't otherwise overpowering like a Randy Johnson bullet train, but it lands heavy on the bat thanks to that little sinking action, if hitters hit it at all. His breaking ball isn't brilliant-looking either, but he has two of them and changes speeds with them at will. And his changeup is devastating. But none of them look like the kind of filthy stuff that wins you a Cy Young. He just misses all the bats. That was Kirby - no second breaking ball, but he still changed speeds beautifully, hit his spots, and put just a hint of a tailing motion on his fastball, and threw pitches that looked so tantalizingly hittable. Only four or five of his strikeouts were K's looking.
The rest of the weekend was little better for Pitt batters; UVA's pitchers recorded a 0.66 ERA for the three-game series. Sadly, they got no support on Saturday and Pitt lived up perfectly to the prediction that said they could steal one if our bats were cold, so Brandon Waddell decided to hell with run support and shut them out for eight innings on Sunday, polished off by a no-sweat inning from Nick Howard.
The real work starts this coming weekend. The combined ACC records of the remaining teams on the schedule: 47-26. This is where that super-regional hosting duty will be won or lost.
More bullet-point news.
-- Lacrosse lost. Did I mention argh faceoffs? I actually thought the crucial one was the one after we scored to go up 10-9, rather than the one on which UVA rolled over and graciously allowed R.G. Keenan a leisurely stroll to the net. That was a true team non-effort, that was, right from the utterly rotten effort at the X to the not-my-job approach to defending the ballcarrier. But it was really the previous faceoff where the game could've been won, and wasn't.
UVA is now eliminated from the ACC tournament, a major black mark on the season's record, and though I expect they'll find themselves back in the NCAAs, I also expect they'll find themselves back out of them sharpish.
-- Plenty of Tweetery news today and this week; the most obviously relevant is Teven Jones's decision to transfer out. The hardest part of any roster to fill is the very fringe of the rotation - in an ideal world you could have a veteran to lean back on in the event of injuries like UVA suffered in 2011-2012, but that never happens anymore. It's hard to ask a guy to do that, though, when he knows he could be playing somewhere else instead of being best known for his dancing.
Ross Metheny left with a ton of love and gratitude for UVA, but he wasn't oblivious to the signs that pointed to a career as a backup. Jones is plainly the same. UVA loses one backcourt player to graduation (Joe Harris) and brings in two (B.J. Stith as a freshman and Devon Hall off his redshirt.) Jones was already in no-man's land between the rotation and the walk-ons, and his minutes situation wasn't going to be improved by that numbers game.
Jones's decision means two instead of three scholarships are open for the recruiting class of 2015, and I would expect Tony Bennett to move quickly to fill them all. Jones was part of that enormous sophomore class that was going to leave a huge crater in the roster when they graduated in 2016; if Tony nabs a combination of transfers and 2015 recruits to fill every last slot for 2015, it reduces the need to bring in a monster-sized class in 2016 to fill the holes, and spreads things out a little better for the long term.
-- Other ACC transfers include Tyler Lewis (from NC State to Butler) and BC's Ryan Anderson, easily their top offensive player after Olivier Hanlan. That, plus BC's decision to aim nice and low in their coaching search (Jim Christian took John Groce's Ohio Bobcats and finished second in the MAC his first year and fifth in his second) should ensure the Eagles will fill out the bottom of the ACC standings for years to come.
-- Derek Fisher's return to the baseball lineup appears semi-imminent; he'll miss Clemson this weekend but may return the week after, and the FSU series that Brian O'Connor all but guaranteed Fisher would play is the one right after that. This is great news but also not very surprising: the bone that Fisher broke is utterly pointless and the surgeons don't fix it, they just yank it like a bothersome appendix. So his recovery is less about bone healing, because he doesn't have any broken ones left, and more about getting his hand strengthened again after being sliced open.
-- Finally, I have sad, sad news: the empty trophy case is no more. VT's famous WE DON'T HAVE ANY NATIONAL TITLES neon sign is replaced by a big, life-sized Hurkey Turkey or whateva. Most likely it was moved to the bass fishing locker room where it can finally serve its intended purpose, but that doesn't mean it has to stop being a metaphor when we need a handy one for the natty goose egg.