In a weekend that featured the Virginia men’s lacrosse team finally getting an ACC win (read: got the 50,000-pound monkey off their back), the Cavalier baseball team continued the good feelings with an inspiring couple of games.
Over the course of the series, the University of Virginia baseball team played three incredibly different baseball games. The opening game of the series can be summarized in two words: Derek Casey. The second game is even easier: Blah. The rubber match of the series is slightly more difficult to comprehend because the team that showed up in the last two innings could not have looked more different from the team that played the first seven frames.
All in all, the Cavaliers pulled out a 2-1 series victory over their in-state rival Virginia Tech Hokies, and my goodness does it feel good to say the ‘Hoos got off the schneid.
As mentioned, the story of the first game was the manimal that is Derek Casey. The junior righty tossed a complete game shutout while fanning seven Hokies and needing only 112 pitches. Casey allowed just 3 hits and faced a mere 30 batters, two above the minimum. It’s hard to overstate just how dominated Derek was in this outing, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the Virginia bats were hotter than hot.
Tanner Morris finally got back into form after hitting the terrifying freshman wall a few weeks ago to bolster the Cavaliers attack. Morris ended the day 3/5 with four runs scored and some slick fielding to support Casey, but Andy Weber continued to steal the show offensively. Weber reached base three times, while racking up 3 RBIs and scored a run. The junior second baseman has been a revelation thus far and has been a big part in keeping the Cavaliers afloat. The ‘Hoos scored in 5 of their 8 offensive opportunities and tagged Tech starting pitcher Connor Coward for 8 runs in the first 5 innings. From there on out, it was a cruise control win for Casey as he allowed only one baserunner in the final four frames.
Game two was a significantly more tense tilt for Virginia. Over the course of the 9 innings, there were five lead changes and three ties. Unfortunately, for Virginia, the last lead change went Tech’s way in the top of the 9th.
Daniel Lynch got the start in the second half of the double header and looked sharp for the first two innings as he struck out the side in the first and picked up two Ks more in the second. Lynch had a hiccup in the third, allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base and steal second and was unlucky when a weakly hit ground ball found the only space between Morris and Novak on the left side of the infield, allowing the run to score.
Virginia would come back to take the lead on an opposite field, two-run Nate Eikhoff homerun but were unable to hold onto the advantage when Virginia Tech strung together three consecutive singles in their next at bat to tie the game at two. Mack Meyer relieved Lynch in the top of the seventh after two hits and a walk led to another Tech run. Meyer limited the damage to one by getting the first batter he faced to ground into an inning ending double play. The USF transfer has been solid for Virginia out of the bullpen so far, appearing in 15 games and producing a 2.81 ERA.
Bennett Sousa took over in the 8th for the Cavaliers and immediately gave up a run after a leadoff walk and two consecutive Hokie singles. Luckily, the Cavalier offense bailed him out and got the run back in the bottom of the inning. Virginia could have taken the lead and put the Hokies on the ropes but after loading the bases with one out, Alex Tappen flied into a double play only allowing Tanner Morris to score from third.
Sousa returned in the 9th in hopes of putting a 0 on the board and giving the Cardiac Cavs another chance to create some magic but his bid was unsuccessful after another leadoff walk, a stolen base, a bunt single and a suicide squeeze put the Hokies up 5-4. Virginia went quietly in the bottom of the inning and the Hokies held on for the win.
The rubber game of the series was by far the most exciting game, no matter what a certain UVA beat reporter might tell you. The beginning of the game dragged a bit as it took an hour and a half to play the first two and a half innings. The ‘Hoos were able to keep it scoreless after multiple Virginia Tech threats in their first three at-bats and finally took the lead in the bottom of the third on a homerun by Alex Tappen that looked like it might never come back down to Earth. Unfortunately, the homerun loosened the game up and Tech immediately struck back in the 4th on the strength of a two-run homer of their own and an error by Virginia to take a 3-2 lead into the 5th inning. The Hokies tacked on another run in the 6th to go up 4-2.
Virginia threatened again in the 6th but came up empty thanks to an inning ending double play. In the 7th, the Hokies took what looked to be a commanding 5-2 lead and looked to be pulling away while their hot hitting with runners in scoring position continued to give Virginia problems. Little did they know, this year’s Virginia team is something of an expert in creating late game rallies.
Kyle Whitten started the momentum by posting a strong top of the 7th and the rally started after a Cameron Comer single (you’ll hear more about him in a second) and a Jack Weiller double (only his second hit of the year) put runners on second and third with no outs. Tanner Morris decided it was his turn to contribute to the heroics and tallied the third Virginia hit in a row to bring Comer and Weiller in to score, making it a 5-4 game.
Whitten returned in the 9th and got the first two outs quickly but Brian O’Connor decided to pull him after plunking the next Tech batter. Sousa gave the Cavaliers life by fanning the first and only batter he faced to send the game to the bottom of the 9th still a one run game.
Nate Eikhoff was unable to get the rally restarted as he popped out weakly to center field, but hope was resurrected after Charlie Cody drew a walk. After a Hokie pitching change, freshman catcher Blake Rivoli came to the plate looking to make something happen. And boy, did he ever. On a 2-0 count, Tech pitcher Joey Sullivan grooved a fastball which Rivoli promptly ripped into the right field corner. Thanks to a lucky bounce off the walls in the corner, Tech right fielder Stevie Mangrum was unable to field it cleanly and Rivoli dove into third with a game tying RBI triple.
For most of the year, Cameron Comer has been used soley as a backup catcher when Caleb Knight needs a day off, or in this case, has been slumping. It seems like the Virginia program has a history of unlikely heroes showing up in big spots (CUE THE THOMAS WOODRUFF MONTAGE), and Comer was no exception on this day. Coming into this at-bat, Comer was 3/3 with three singles and a HBP, but his most important at-bat came in the 9th against a 5-man Virginia Tech infield. Comer quickly went down 0-2 but in typical UVa fashion, continued to grind out the at-bat until he found his pitch. Comer took the 0-2 offering and ripped a single up the middle, bringing Rivoli home and propelling the Cavaliers to the unlikely (but totally expected) come from behind win.
The win brings the ‘Hoos to 18-14 on the year and 6-9 in conference, and into a tie for 9th in the ACC standings with Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.
The Cavaliers return to action at the Dish on Wednesday to face off with in-state foe Radford.
Performers of the Series
STL Pitcher of the Series: This one seems wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too obvious. Derek Casey delivered the most dominant performance from a UVA pitcher this year en route to a complete game shutout against an instate rival. If his performance is good enough to earn him ACC Pitcher of the Week honors, it’s good enough for us. Casey has been up and down so far this year but here’s to hoping he can continue the good mojo from this absurd outing.
STL Hitter of the Series: Congratulations to Cameron Comer for ending the weekend on the highest of high notes and going 4/4 with the game winning and series clinching RBI. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Comer has steadily worked his way into a legitimate role with this team and he currently sits at a .242 batting average in 91 at-bats, but more impressively has a .352 on base percentage. All it takes is one hot weekend to elevate a guy’s game to the next level and there’s no reason to think Comer can’t continue to build on his heroic weekend.