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The sophomore earned a starting role on the UVa team opening NCAA tournament play today.
JIM DAVES | Virginia
Mike Papi moved into the Cavaliers leadoff spot. His patience at the plate has him hitting .400 with a .565 on-base percentage.
JIM DAVES | Virginia
Sophomore Mike Papi played his way into the University of Virginia’s regular lineup and finished the season as the ACC’s best hitter.
Friday, May 31, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE - As a part-time starter for the first month of the baseball season, Virginia's Mike Papi had a few requests for pronunciation help.
Now that he's become one of the most productive hitters in college baseball, he can tell people his name is pronounced "Papi as in happy."
Papi, a sophomore outfielder from the northeast Pennsylvania town of Tunkhannock, finished the regular-season as the ACC's leading hitter (.400) and enters postseason play as the Division I leader in on-base percentage (.565).
The Cavaliers (47-10) meet Patriot League champion Army (29-21) at Davenport Field at 1 p.m. today.
That will be followed by a 6 p.m. game between Elon (32-28) and UNC-Wilmington (37-21).
Virginia is appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in 10 seasons under head coach Brian O'Connor, but it will be a first for Papi, who missed the last six weeks of the 2012 season with a back injury.
Papi didn't make his first start this season until the 11th game, when he homered against Harvard. Two weeks after that, he went 5 for 7 in a mid-March series at Clemson and has been a fixture in the UVa lineup ever since.
"Mike was in a difficult spot in the first part of the year; he just wasn't getting much time," O'Connor said. "I talked to him on a couple of occasions and I just told him, 'Mike, you stay ready here. Your opportunity's going to come.'
"He handled it like a winner. How he handled it has enabled him to do what he's doing. From a talent perspective, it's no surprise that he's doing this. He's more mature, which is how most people are when they've been in college for a year."
O'Connor's challenge was finding a spot for Papi with the return of the three outfielders who started against Oklahoma in the final game of the 2012 season - Derek Fisher in left, Brandon Downes in center and Colin Harrington in right.
Then, there was freshman Joe McCarthy.
"Quite frankly, offensively, Joe McCarthy outplayed everybody in the fall," O'Connor said.
McCarthy grew up 15 minutes from Papi in Scranton, Pa., but they rarely ran into each other. They didn't play on the same travel teams, nor did their high schools face each other.
"He was at a 4-A school, and I played 3-A," said Papi, also an outstanding basketball player who had 50 or more 3-point field goals in back-to-back seasons and set a school free-throw record (93 percent).
Papi has six home runs and, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, has the frame of a power hitter. However, when UVa shortstop and leadoff hitter Brandon Cogswell sustained a broken finger, it was Papi, a 30th-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, who moved to the top of the lineup.
"I've always been a patient hitter," said Papi, whose 41 walks are second on the team behind McCarthy, whose 46 walks came in 53 more plate appearances. "Not much changes [at leadoff]. The power takes care of itself."
At the start of the season, most of Papi's playing time came as a designated hitter or a substitute for first baseman Jared King when games got out of reach. Then, Fisher injured an ankle and Papi took over in left field.
Upon his return, Fisher became the DH and the Cavaliers weren't about to move Papi after his leaping grab clinched a victory at North Carolina in the regular-season finale.
Papi, not one to show his emotions, said all he did was make the routine play. But, he admits that the experience of watching UVa in the NCAA Tournament last year has added to his anticipation this year.
"I'm just itching to get out there," he said.
Freshman left-hander Brandon Waddell (5-2, 4.02 earned run average) is expected to oppose Army's Chris Rowley, who also started against the Cavaliers in the first game of last year's Charlottesville Regional. Rowley is 20-4 over two seasons, with his lone loss in 2012 coming to UVa, 9-1, ... Cogswell was in uniform at UVa's practice Thursday but used his left (non-throwing) hand to pick up a loose ball and throw it toward the batting cage.
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