When the Cavaliers' coaching staff met for nearly an hour Friday after U.Va.'s NCAA baseball tournament regional game against Army was pushed to Saturday due to rain, O'Connor didn't leave any mystery about where he stood on the possibility of bringing starting pitcher Branden Kline back to the mound.
Kline, a junior who was U.Va.'s closer last season, started Friday for the 15th time this season and threw 20 pitches before the game was delayed in the first inning.
"I've got to tell you, from the start I felt the right thing to do was to send Branden back out there," O'Connor said. "I was not concerned really about the fact that he did start the game (Friday), because of his experience as a closer for us. I didn't think (coming back Saturday would) be a difficult thing for him to do."
O'Connor knew what he was talking about regarding Kline, who proceeded to give up just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings and led U.Va. to a 9-1 victory against Army. From the 11:02 a.m. first pitch Friday to Saturday afternoon's last out, the game took 28 hours and 55 minutes to complete.
U.Va. moves on to play Sunday at 3 p.m. against Appalachian State (40-16), which defeated Oklahoma 5-4 on Saturday. Oklahoma (38-23) will play Army at 11 a.m. in an elimination game. The winner of the Army-Oklahoma game will face the loser of the Appalachian State-U.Va. game Sunday at 7 p.m.
Kline shouldered the load on the mound against Army (41-14), surrendering six hits and a walk and striking out five, while U.Va.'s batters benefited from a rare wild outing from Army pitcher Chris Rowley (11-1, 2.40 earned run average).
Coming into the game, Rowley had given up just 17 walks and hit nine batters with pitches this season in 91.1 innings. In six innings against U.Va. (39-17-1), Rowley walked five and hit four batters.
"I think that mentally, I didn't prepare myself like I should have," Rowley said. "Five walks and four hit batters – stuff like that doesn't happen unless I'm not engaged like I should have been and the fact of the matter is that I let my teammates down by doing that a little bit."
In the second inning, Rowley hit two batters, the second of which was freshman Brandon Cogswell with the bases loaded. Chris Taylor came home to score to put U.Va. up 1-0, but Stephen Bruno helped the Cavaliers extend their lead to 3-0 later in the inning when he knocked a 3-0 offering from Rowley into centerfield for a two-out, two RBI single.
"It's a great hitting position to be in – 3-0, bases loaded," said Bruno, who went 3 for 5 with three RBI, including an RBI double in the eighth inning. "He's got to throw a strike. I was just trying to be aggressive, put the ball in play and score the runner. I got a pitch to hit and got the job done."
It was all the offense Kline (7-3, 3.56 ERA) needed, but he ended up getting a lot more. In addition to Bruno's 3-hit day, freshman Brandon Downes went 3 for 4 with a double and two runs scored.
With at least a little bit of a closer's mentality still lingering from last season, Kline didn't have any misgivings about pitching on consecutive days. He faced the minimum three batters in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
Kline gave up an RBI in the sixth inning on a groundout by Kevin McKague, the Patriot League Player of the Year, that cut U.Va.'s lead to 3-1, but Cogswell pushed U.Va.'s lead to 6-1 via a double that drove in three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Poquoson High graduate Kyle Crockett took over for Kline with two outs in the third. Crockett proceeded to go 1 1/3 innings, giving up one hit and striking out two. Austin Young mopped up for U.Va. by pitching hitless eighth and ninth innings.
"I just tried to treat it kind of like a bullpen session with what happened (Friday)," Kline said. "I know I threw around 20 pitches or something like that, so I just tried to use the positives from that and go out there (Saturday) and attack Army's lineup."