Virginia sophomore Nathan Kirby added a few accolades to his bio on Monday: ACC pitcher of the week, and a Collegiate Baseball national player of the week. These things happen when you throw a no-hitter, and come within a strikeout of matching both the school and league records.
But Kirby admitted Monday afternoon that there was little indication before Friday's game at Pittsburgh that he was on the verge of making school history.
"When I was warming up, I felt horrible," said the left-hander. "I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't even know if I was going to be able to get it over the plate in the first inning."
Kirby wound up throwing the first complete game of his college career, facing just two batters above the minimum and striking out 18. It's the fifth no-hitter in the past 50 years for the UVa program.
"It was something that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Kirby said Monday. "I really don't know what to say much, other than I had a blast out there, and everything that could have gone my way, went my way that night."
Kirby's no-hitter set the tone for UVa last weekend, who used dominant pitching to take two of three from the Panthers. On Monday, the 27-5 Cavaliers jumped back up a spot to No. 2 in the country in this week's Baseball America national rankings.
Kirby has emerged as the ace of Brian O'Connor's staff at UVa this season. The lefty is 6-1 on the year, with a 1.03 ERA and 55 strikeouts in eight starts. Kirby has been the Cavaliers' Friday starter since the second weekend of the season.
"I think his starts all year long have been, every one of them has been a quality start," O'Connor said Monday. "He's given us a chance to win. You look at his statistics, and see he's got dominating-type stuff, and he's backed it up, every time out."
That wasn't the story for Kirby a season ago. He arrived at UVa as the Gatorade state player of the year coming out of James River High School in Midlothian, but struggled at times to match those lofty expectations. Kirby finished his first college season 4-1, with a 6.06 ERA.
But Kirby followed his freshman season with a strong summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. And O'Connor says Kirby returned to UVa last fall a different pitcher.
"I'll tell you, I think Nathan Kirby, in my time here at the University of Virginia, is the most improved pitcher that we've had from one year to the next," O'Connor said.
"I think the biggest thing is I feel a lot calmer," said Kirby. "Last year, when I would throw two balls, I'd be like, "Gosh, I'm going to walk this guy." And this year, I throw two balls, I'm going to let him hit the third one, instead of just trying to be perfect."
"Everything was so fast for him. When he'd get runners on, he'd just try to throw harder," said O'Connor. "And this year, you can watch him pitch, and the poise and the calmness he pitches with is really impressive."
"Nothing seemed like it was going to go right last year, when I pitched," said Kirby. "And I feel like having been in the scenario before just gives you a lot more confidence. Knowing that you have a team behind you that can make the play."
Kirby's no-hitter was the first of three strong pitching performances for the Cavaliers at Pitt. Josh Sborz and Connor Jones combined to give up two runs on four hits in a 2-1 loss to the Panthers Saturday night. On Sunday, Brandon Waddell shut out Panthers on two hits for a career-long eight innings, and Nick Howard pitched a perfect ninth in a 3-0 UVa win.
As a staff, the Cavaliers gave up just two runs all weekend, the fewest ever for UVa in a three-game ACC series on the road.
"What we did this weekend on the pitching mound, you don't see," O'Connor said. "I've never seen it, here in our time, on one weekend.
"When we aren't pitching well, and the hitters are hitting well, we feed off of that," said Kirby. "And when we're in a tight game, and they know that our pitchers are going to go out there and hold them to at least a couple runs, I think that gives the hitters a lot more confidence."
Kirby, Sborz (3-1, 2.63 ERA), and Waddell (4-1, 3.14 ERA) have been UVa's three weekend starters since the season's opening weekend. The three sophomores are a combined 13-3 on the year, with 128 strikeouts and just 42 walks.
"The fact that all three of them are second-years," O'Connor said. "They're all three very, very talented. And I'm sure they feed off of each other, they learn from each other. That was a special pitching group when we brought them in. And really, it took about a year for them all to really develop."