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Heart of a champion: UVA left fielder Kevin Doherty wills himself into key role on title team

Doherty_Kevin_14MKevin Doherty, starting left fielder, national champion. It hasn’t set in yet for the rising UVA fourth-year.

“With what we’ve went through, accomplishing each step in the process, winning each game, each series, it kind of feels like there’s one more set that we have to go through. It’s kind of weird that we’ve won, and we’re done. That’s kind of a weird feeling, but I’m sure that it will start to sink in in the coming weeks, that we actually did it,” said Doherty, who hit .215 with a homer and 23 RBIs as an outfielder and designated hitter for the Virginia baseball team in 2015, and also pitched in 23 games out of the bullpen, with a 3-1 record and 3.40 ERA in 45 innings of work.

Doherty’s contributions in the 2015 postseason were largely in the everyday lineup. He did pitch in two of Virginia’s 12 games, including one appearance in the College World Series, but he started 10 games at DH and the outfield, and contributed two memorable game-winning hits, in the 14-10 win over Southern Cal that clinched the Lake Elsinore Regional, and the 5-3 win over Maryland in Game 1 of the Super Regional.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t get a single at bat in his first two seasons at UVA, and had thrown a total of 15.1 innings for coach Brian O’Connor those first two years.

“There was so much talent in front of me pitching-wise that at the end of my second year, I asked Coach O’Connor if it would be OK if I worked into the lineup,” Doherty said. “I knew we had of lot of guys leaving through the draft, and I understood we had a lot of good freshmen coming in, but if there was any way I could help the team more, on the mound or in the lineup, I wanted to do whatever was needed.

“I never really imagined it would work out the way it did. If you would have told me at the end of my second year that I would be playing left field in the College World Series and win a national championship, I would not have believed that at all. It’s crazy how it has progressed,” Doherty said.

Doherty spent the second half of last summer in Waynesboro with the 2014 Valley League champion Waynesboro Generals. He took batting practice every day, part of his work toward being able to contribute at Virginia in 2015 in the everyday lineup, and also went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA as a starting pitcher, including getting the win in Game 3 of the VBL semifinals over Covington.

The experience in Waynesboro was valuable for Doherty in getting him ready for his expanded role in 2015.

“With our championship run in Waynesboro, you just wanted to help out, not make it fully about you. You just wanted to contribute to the team. That was the mentality that helped us win in Waynesboro,” Doherty said. “Guys like Will Lowman coming in and closing out games, and realizing that I don’t have to do too much having Will behind me to close out a game. Realizing that you don’t have to do too much to win a championship, just do a little bit, do your part, and things will work out.

“That’s the same thing with Virginia. I saw a big correlation with that. Just get on base any way I could, and know the guys behind me, like Ernie Clement, will drive in the runs, or in that second game, that Thomas Woodruff would come up big,” Doherty said.

“What helped with Virginia was everybody was so modest,” Doherty said. “So when Ernie gets switched around, he just wants to be out there, day in and day out, to be able to contribute any way he could. The same thing for Thomas Woodruff, Adam Haseley, all those guys, wherever you put them, they wanted to help. They didn’t have a predetermined notion of where they thought they should be, which is a great attribute for the team, because everybody just wanted to help out and help the team win games.

“It was a great learning experience going through Waynesboro last summer, just to see what it was like to get to the end, and then now being there, you can see the correlation between that experience and Virginia. It was a very valuable experience,” Doherty said.

The experience of the College World Series and the national championship game is one that Doherty obviously will never forget. The one thing that sticks with him in the here and now is the sense of pressure that ratcheted up throughout Game 3 Wednesday night

“When we scored those two runs, we felt like we were more in the driver’s seat, and got more in the driver’s seat as the game progressed. And then more of the pressure of the game started to mount, and it got to be pretty tense,” said Doherty, who had to make conscious efforts to keep himself calm and in the moment.

“For me personally, being in the outfield, it almost consumed me, so I started to divert my attention to thinking about what I needed to do, and not think about, OK, we’re six outs away from a national championship, we’re five outs away. I couldn’t let myself think about that,” Doherty said.

“Finally when we’re one out away, and (Nathan) Kirby is lights out, you start to realize, wow, this actually might happen. And then it gets to that final out, and it’s so surreal, because you realize, this is it, the last step in the journey.”

Doherty memorably body-slammed Clement after the freshman’s game-winning hit in the Super Regional that sent the Cavs back to Omaha. That was more a function of opportunity, since Doherty was on the basepaths just ahead of Clement as their teammates prepared to dogpile.

“I knew we had to get down, that the force was coming, so I accidentally slammed Ernie. I didn’t mean to do it that forcefully, but Ernie is a little guy. He doesn’t have much meat to him, so he wasn’t too bad to take down,” Doherty said.

Virginia was in the field for the clinching moment for the national championship, with Doherty all the way out in left field.

“The big difference in this dogpile was that it stayed up for a while,” Doherty said. “Everybody was jumping around, nobody wanted to go down. I don’t know who went down first, but everybody started piling up. I tried to jump on top.

“The dogpile is just pure excitement, but also accompanied with just pure shock, that this is what it took, and we did it.”

Doherty has a couple of days to live in the moment before a summer vacation from baseball. He has an internship this summer in New York City, working toward life after baseball, whenever that is.

“It will be kind of nice to get away from baseball,” Doherty said. “It’s been two very long summers, with Omaha and a long summer in Waynesboro. I plan to sit back, reflect a little, recover, and get back in the fall and really want to get after it.”

Doherty got after it in style over the course of the past 12 months, transforming himself from little-used relief pitcher to starting left fielder on a national champion.

“It kind of proves that you can do whatever you put your mind to,” Doherty said. “For me, getting limited opportunity the first two years was pretty discouraging, but just realizing that if you keep putting in work, doing the little things right, things will ultimately work out. That was very valuable for me to see come to fruition this postseason. I was able to help out the team tremendously in some of those games, and it was very rewarding to see your hard work pay off.”

– Story by Chris Graham