ACC Pitcher of the Year Drew Harrington was cruising. Four frames into Virginia’s Saturday evening 7-2 ACC Tournament win against Louisville, Harrington had faced the minimum 12 hitters, struck out four Wahoos, and retired 11 batters in a row.
Harrington started the fifth inning well too. One strike away from his fifth K of the night, UVA’s Pavin Smith fouled off two, two-strike pitches and then singled a 1-2 pitch from Harrington into right field. That opened the doors to a seven-run explosion for the Cavaliers.
Smith, a.375 hitter when leading off an inning, didn’t get your garden variety single back up the middle or with a hard liner past a diving infielder. Regardless of the optics, it got the ball rolling for the Hoos.
“We got a little lucky there, hit a chip in the infield and bounced over,” Smith said. “Sometimes you just need that, get a runner on, get the guy in the stretch, get him a different look, and give us a different look at the plate with the guy in the stretch.”
Smith came around to score two batters later on Adam Haseley’s RBI single as the Hoos sent 13 batters to the plate with all nine starters joining in the hit parade. With his second at-bat of the inning, Smith added to his team-leading two-out RBI total – his 25th – to plate Justin Novak for UVA’s seventh run of the inning.
In 10 ACC starts this season, Harrington had gone 8-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 47 strikeouts. The ACC’s top hurler admitted that type of offensive barrage is something he’s not accustomed to seeing: “Yeah, that hasn’t happened obviously too many times this year.”
It certainly hadn’t happened all season to Harrington. The junior southpaw went six-plus innings in 12 of 14 starts and his shortest outing was a solid 5.1. The seven runs charged to Harrington were a career high and the loss was his first since dropping a 4-2 decision to Ole Miss on Feb. 28.
“I’ve never seen a team like that hit seven hits in a row or whatever it was,” added Harrington. “I feel like I made some good pitches. Some pitches could have been better, but all in all, I mean, they were better than me for that inning.”
And it all started with Smith’s top-spin tapper just over the Cardinal first baseman’s outstretched left arm. Smith says it doesn’t matter how textbook it looks are how it creeps through, sometimes you just need to break through.
“I think sometimes hits just come,” says Smith. “They’re very contagious, and to get one going, you get some confidence going against them, and realizing that you can hit them.”
It’s not the first time Smith has had success against Louisville. He went 4 for 10 in the season series with Cards, including a 3-run homer in Virginia’s lone series win. Not many hitters are batting .428 on the season against the team ranked 8th in lowest ERA in college baseball.
It’s also not the first time Smith has had success at the plate in general. During Virginia’s title run last season, Smith was third on the team in batting average (.307) and RBI (44) and second in home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.467). This year, his first batting cleanup, Smith is hitting .329 (fourth) and is tied for second on the club with six home runs. He is second in RBI (53) and slugging percentage (.493).
Smith has been even better than advertised in ACC Tournament play and his hot bat is a welcome sight after struggling the final two weeks of the season.
Smith entered the week mired in a mini-slump. Since the Miami series, the second-team All-ACC selection was hitting .269 (14-52) and only .238 since the exam break. Things started to turn around for Smith after going hitless in the first two games of the final season series against Virginia Tech. After scratching a hit in a 1-for-3 effort in game three against the Hokies, Smith raked at a .462 (6 for 13) clip in the tournament with five runs scored and two RBI.
The Florida native says he was pressing after the exam break but received plenty of encouragement from teammates and coaches and appears to have righted the HMS Pavin.
“I just had to stay with it, stick with my approach and not try to do too much,” explained Smith. “I felt like when I was trying to get it, I was trying to press too much trying to get a hit, that’s when you end up not getting a hit, so really just sticking to the approach, not trying to do too much.”