CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Will Roberts pitched like he’d waited three years.
Virginia’s junior righthander threw a four-hitter and struck out a career-best 14 Friday, leading the top-seeded Cavaliers to a 6-0 victory against Navy to open the NCAA tournament.
Roberts (11-1) had never appeared in an NCAA tournament game for the Cavaliers, and pitched like he wanted to prove he belonged. Using pinpoint location and soaring confidence, he retired the last 17 batters, nine via strikeouts, and didn’t walk a batter.
“I was pretty excited about it,” he said of being tapped to start for Virginia after watching the past two years. “I’ve been waiting three years to get into the postseason.”
Just a few feet away, coach Brian O’Connor sat beaming.
“I think it’s a great story,” he said.
And one that just keeps getting better.
Roberts, now 18-1 in college, pitched the eighth perfect game in NCAA Division I history on March 29 against George Washington, earning a spot in Virginia’s weekend rotation.
Against Navy (33-24-1), he was in attack mode from the start, striking out the first two hitters. The Midshipmen managed two hits in the second, one in the third and one in the fourth, but Roberts picked Greg Dupell off first base in the second inning and pretty much cruised.
“He went right at some hitters and just did a great job,” said Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos, whose team is in the tournament for the first time since 2002.
“Sometimes the pitcher’s just going to get you,” he said.
Roberts also got offensive support right away.
Virginia scored twice in the first on a two-out double by John Hicks, a walk to Steven Proscia and Danny Hultzen’s triple into the right field corner. Hultzen, who had three of the Cavaliers’ 10 hits, added a two-out single to make it 3-0 in the third, and Kenny Swab’s single made it 4-0. John Barr later added an RBI single and Hicks hit his seventh home run.
Hultzen, the possible No. 1 draft pick as a pitcher, finished with three RBIs.
“He’s been getting big clutch hits for us his entire career,” O’Connor said of the lefthander, who will start Saturday night against East Carolina or St. John’s in the winner’s bracket, trying to put Virginia one victory from hosting a super regional here next weekend.
He will be hard-pressed to look as strong as Roberts, who said he “just kind of got in a groove” when he struck out six straight after getting the first out in the sixth on a foul pop.
He also finished the eighth with a strikeout, then got a rousing cheer from the huge crowd when he emerged for the ninth to finish the game, leaping over the foul line on his way.
Three fly balls to the outfield finished off the gem.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)