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Connor Jones dominant: UVA baseball wins opener at N.C. State, 8-3

uva baseballBehind seven strong innings from starting pitcher Connor Jones (So., Chesapeake, Va.), the Virginia baseball team knocked off NC State, 8-3, Friday evening at Doak Field at Dail Park in the first of a three-game series at Dail Park in Raleigh, N.C. Virginia (27-15, 10-12 ACC) scored five of its runs with two outs and now has won six of its last seven games.

“Connor Jones was terrific again tonight,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He came out and was in charge on the mound once again. His command has really improved. He pitched like a No. 1 (starter) last week and he did it again tonight.”

Jones (5-2) allowed three earned runs, five hits and three walks as he earned the win. Jones matched a career high with 11 strikeouts. It marked Jones’ second straight double-figure strikeout performance as he also fanned 11 last Saturday in UVa’s 5-2 win over Miami. Alec Bettinger (So., Woodbridge, Va.) struck out four over the final two innings to finish off the win.

NC State starter Brian Brown (3-3) worked five innings and pitched to the first two batters in the sixth inning. He allowed three runs (one earned), five hits and three walks while striking out five in taking the loss for the Wolfpack (21-18, 9-12).

Matt Thaiss (So., Jackson, N.J.) went 3-for-5 and drove in four runs for Virginia. Thaiss now has eight RBI in three games this week. Pavin Smith (Fr., Jupiter, Fla.) also racked up three hits and Daniel Pinero (So., Toronto, Ontario) as the Cavaliers finished with a dozen hits. Scoring opportunities were aplenty as both teams had runners on base in every inning.

Virginia took advantage of an NC State miscue to score the game’s first run in the fifth inning. With one out Adam Haseley (Fr., Windermere, Fla.) hit a grounder to shortstop Joel McKeithan, whose throw to first pulled Preston Palmeiro off the bag. Haseley moved to second on a wild pitch and after Daniel Pinero walked, Brown threw another wild pitch to advance the runners. Thaiss then hit a slow grounder to second base to bring Haseley home.

The Cavaliers sent 11 batters to the plate in a five-run sixth inning, but UVa got three straight two-out, run-scoring hits to extend its lead. Smith slapped a double to left to open the inning and Robbie Coman bunted his way on, spelling the end of the night for Brown. Facing Travis Orwig, Joe McCarthy (Jr., Scranton, Pa.) hit a hard grounder to second baseman Logan Ratledge, who booted it with Smith scoring on the potential double-play ball. Kevin Doherty (Jr., Laytonsville, Md.) bunted the runners to second and third.

One out later, the Cavaliers clutched up to stretch their lead. Haseley flipped a single into left field to plate McCarthy. Pinero then singled through the infield and into left field to bring in Justin Novak (Fr., Tokyo, Japan). Thaiss then tattooed a pitch over the head of center fielder Jake Fincher, scoring Haseley and Pinero to push the lead to 6-0.

NC State cut the Cavaliers’ lead in half in the seventh inning when Palmeiro launched a three-run home run that caromed off the top of the center-field wall and out of the park. Prior to the homer, Jones had walked Fincher and plunked Ratledge with the next pitch. Palmeiro then homered on the following offering.

Virginia answered with a run in the eighth inning on a Coman fielder’s choice grounder which brought Thaiss home. The Cavaliers added a run in the ninth on a two-out Thaiss RBI single, scoring Novak.

Game 2 of the series is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, while the series finale is slated for 1 p.m. Sunday.