UVA left fielder Kevin Doherty watched Maryland coach John Szefc give the signal to closer Kevin Mooney. Four. Mooney was to intentionally walk Joe McCarthy with two outs in the eight inning, runners on second and third, the Terps up one, to get to Doherty, who had gone 0-for-3 on the day against Maryland starter Mike Shawaryn, and had looked ugly on a pair of strikeouts.
“I was kind of overmatched by the fastball,” Doherty conceded after the game.
But he knew Mooney, who had come into Friday’s Charlottesville Super Regional Game 1 with a 1.21 ERA in 2015, and has a fastball that can hit 92 mph on the radar gun, was going to come after him with the fastball, one because Doherty had been having trouble with fastballs, and two because Mooney, with the bases now loaded full of Cavaliers, could ill-afford to fall behind, and Mooney’s one weak point this season has been walks (22 in 37.1 innings coming into the game.
“I took the mentality to be very aggressive,” Doherty said. “Because I knew there was a high-percentage chance that they were going to throw me the fastball because I’d looked so bad in the prior at bats. And pretty much just took that mentality, to be aggressive, don’t let them throw a fastball for a strike. I was aggressive, and that worked out for me.”
Doherty got a first-pitch fastball, and drove it to the gap in left-center. Maryland center fielder LaMonte Wade tracked it down as he collided with the wall, the ball fell harmlessly to the ground, and when the play was over, the bases had cleared, Doherty was on second base, and the Cavs had a 5-3 lead that they would not relinquish.
“That was an easy one,” Szefc told reporters of the decision to walk McCarthy to face Doherty, a .238 hitter in 2015 with seven extra-base hits in 104 at bats before his game-winning hit on Friday.
“McCarthy, the guy was right in the middle of all of their success last year, the guy played in Omaha. I can sleep a lot easier at night facing a freshman as opposed to Joe McCarthy. It didn’t work out for us, but we’ve made decisions like that all year.”
Doherty is actually a junior, but it’s easy to confuse him as being a freshman. Doherty entered 2015 primarily as a pitcher, with emphasis on primarily. He played summer ball in Waynesboro for the Valley League champion Generals in 2014, and had just three at bats all summer, and coach D.J. King said Doherty had to pester him to get those ABs.
But after McCarthy went on the shelf before the 2015 season with back surgery, starting a merry-go-round of injuries that threw the roster all asunder, to a point where coach Brian O’Connor considered calling up players from a club team to fill out the roster, Doherty was ready to contribute as a two-way player.
“I just kind of expected to play a fairly minor role, and just help out however I can, because I knew that there’d be holes this year, especially in the outfield with all the guys leaving. But I never envisioned it to be what it is now,” said Doherty, who has a 3.25 ERA in 22 appearances out of the UVA bullpen in 2015, with 37 strikeouts in 44.1 innings, just nine walks allowed, and a .176 opponent batting average.
But his biggest contribution to the Cavs in 2015, it turns out, has been in late-inning clutch situations at the plate. Friday’s game-winning hit was his second in as many games for Virginia in the 2015 postseason. He drove home McCarthy from second with one out and the game tied at 9-9 in the 11th inning of UVA’s 14-10 win over Southern Cal in the regional final last weekend.
Doherty said he thought of that moment as he watched McCarthy get his free pass to first base Friday.
“It definitely helped relax me in the moment,” Doherty said. “Thinking back to that moment, put a good swing on this so we can get out of here kind of thing. Let’s just end the game. Get Joe across. That was kind of my goal. Same thing in this situation. Just relax, don’t try to do too much, and that really worked out for me.”
O’Connor didn’t give a second thought to letting Doherty take his swings against Mooney.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I know what Kevin’s made of,” O’Connor said. “I know Kevin wanted this opportunity to help his team. Certainly he’s going to be aggressive. I can live with that. If he goes up there and doesn’t get a hit, I’ll have no problem sleeping tonight, because I know what he’s made of, and I know he’s going to give his best.”
So Doherty got what he was expecting.
“It was a fastball. I think it was high. It might have been a ball, I don’t even know. Just gave it a good swing, and I saw it go up,” Doherty said. “I thought I got it good, and just started running the bases, and I saw Coach Kirby wheeling me around, and I was pretty pumped up at how adamant he was to get me to second base, that it wasn’t going to be caught. It felt like I got it good.”
– Story by Chris Graham