McCarthy’s re­turn brings Cavs hope

U.Va. cling­ing to fi­nal spot as ACC tour­ney ap­proaches

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - COLLEGE BASEBALL - BY MIKE BAR­BER mbar­ber@timesdis­patch.com @RTD_MikeBar­ber

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE — Af­ter sit­ting out for two months with an in­jured left wrist, Vir­ginia ju­nior cen­ter fielder Jake McCarthy sought the coun­sel of his older brother, Joe, be­fore his first game back in the lineup.

Joe McCarthy Jr., a former U.Va. star and cur­rent Tampa Bay Rays’ mi­nor lea­guer, had some sim­ple advice for eas­ing back into ac­tion.

“He told me to hit the ball up the mid­dle,” Jake McCarthy said. “That’s what he said. He said, ‘Don’t try to pull it.’”

His older brother’s advice paid off. In his sec­ond at-bat of Mon­day night’s win over Ge­or­gia Tech, the younger McCarthy lined a sin­gle into cen­ter field. He fin­ished 2 for 3 with an RBI, then drove in two more runs the next night, in U.Va.’s 11-3 loss to Rich­mond.

“It’s just good to be back,” McCarthy, ar­guably the team’s top pro­fes­sional prospect this year, said. “Ob­vi­ously you don’t want to be sit­ting on the bench for two months. It got pretty frus­trat­ing. To be back, it was just al­most a sense of re­lief.”

McCarthy in­jured his wrist in the team’s 12-1 home win over David­son on March 6 and ex­pected to miss 6-8 weeks. He got his cast off on April 2 but, while he was able to run and throw, swing­ing a bat left him sore the next day.

Vir­ginia waited for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Penn­syl­va­nia na­tive to be able to bounce back painfree a day af­ter a bat­ting prac­tice ses­sion. While it waited, it strug­gled to a 26-21 record, in­clud­ing a 9-16 mark in ACC play.

It goes into the fi­nal series of the reg­u­lar sea­son, a three-game set at Wake For­est start­ing on Thurs­day, hold­ing on to the last spot in the ACC tour­na­ment. Its 14-year string of

con­sec­u­tive NCAA ap­pear­ances is very much in jeop­ardy.

But McCarthy’s re­turn to the lineup, player and coaches said, could a be a late-sea­son spark.

“He’s very, very tal­ented,” Vir­ginia coach Brian O’Con­nor said. “He can af­fect a game with his legs ev­ery time he steps on the field. He’s one of the lead­ers on this team.

“Cer­tainly the younger play­ers look up to a guy like that be­cause he’s been there be­fore and he’s had a lot of suc­cess. And he can con­tinue to spark us.”

McCarthy started all 59 games last sea­son, bat­ting .338 with 5 home runs and 36 RBIs. A pre­sea­son All-Amer­i­can this year, he started the first 13 games be­fore the in­jury, and was bat­ting over .300 again. Like the rest of his team­mates, fresh­man out­fielder Alex Tap­pen said hav­ing McCarthy back in the lineup can en­er­gize the team go­ing into its fi­nal series and then the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment.

“It’s huge,” Tap­pen said. “You get his de­fense, his speed on the bases and his bat back in the lineup. It’s the com­plete pack­age.”

McCarthy bat­ted sixth in his first two games back, the win over Ge­or­gia Tech and the loss to Rich­mond, but O’Con­nor in­di­cated that, as McCarthy gets more com­fort­able, he could slide up in the or­der.

“I think he’ll get bet­ter as the days go on,” O’Con­nor said af­ter Mon­day’s game. “It’s al­ways tough when you come out af­ter be­ing off for 10 weeks and you’re fac­ing an ACC-cal­iber pitch­ing staff. I thought he went up there and was ag­gres­sive, took some good swings, so good to see him back in the lineup.”

JIM DAVES/U.VA. ME­DIA RE­LA­TIONS

Vir­ginia out­fielder Jake McCarthy missed 34 games be­cause of a wrist in­jury, re­turn­ing on Mon­day.

VIR­GINIA AT WAKE FOR­EST Thurs­day: 6 p.m.

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