Maybe the 2021 Virginia Cavaliers just need their backs against wall. In their last five games facing elimination, the Hoos have responded by winning each one. Today, it was Griff McGarry continuing his Columbia excellence on the mound and Zack Geloff and Alex Tappen coming up with huge home runs. But the story for most of the day was the pitching. While we were expecting a great pitcher’s duel yesterday, we got it today. Dallas Baptist starter Rhett Kouba was equally as good as McGarry. Kouba went 7.1 innings, giving up six hits, two earned runs, and five strikeouts. But for Kouba, it was one pitch in the eighth that made the difference as Zack Gelof drove an 0-1 fastball over the left field wall breaking the 0-0 tie and ultimately making the difference.
Dallas Baptist was the first to threaten in the top of the second. With McGarry throwing dirty stuff, he was able to strike out Andrew Benefield for the first out and looked like he had a second strike out, but the ball got past Logan Michaels and went all the way to the backstop. Michaels tried to make the play on Ryan Wrobleski at first, but his throw sailed into right field allowing him to make it to second. He’d then steal third and it looked like the Patriots were in business. But McGarry would buckle down and strike out Blayne Jones and Christian Boulware to end the inning.
Things looked to be getting interesting for Virginia in the bottom of the sixth when Kyle Teel roped a one-out triple to center. However, the next batter, Devin Ortiz grounded to the shortstop. The throw home was on target and Teel got caught in a run down. He was eventually called out for leaving the base path, but Ortiz was able to advance to second keeping a runner in scoring position. Nic Kent then came an inch away from breaking the tie, but his line drive was snagged by the shortstop to end the threat.
But it was the seventh inning when things got exciting. Benefield led off the inning with a double on a ball Chris Newell nearly snagged from over the wall. While it looked like the Patriots were threatening, Michaels was able to catch Benefield leaning as he threw him out at second. It was fortunate for Virginia as Benefield would have scored on Wrobleski’s base hit to left field a couple pitches later. It would all be for naught though as McGarry would get both Jones and Boulware to strike out and end the inning.
Then in the bottom half, Virginia looked to break the tie. Alex Tappen led off with a double down the left field line, but was unable to move any further as Jake Gelof struck out, Michaels flew out to left, and Newell lined out to left.
In the top of the eighth, McGarry’s finger would prove just too painful to continue. After walking the leadoff batter and blood running down his finger and spattering his right pant leg, McGarry gave way to Brandon Neeck. On the day, McGarry worked seven shutout innings and gave up two hits, walked three, and struck out 10 Patriots.
Neeck was able to get a strikeout with Andres Sosa trying to bunt, then caught George Specht in no-man’s land for a force out at second on a blooper to right. Neeck then got the ever-dangerous Jackson Glenn to fly out to center, keeping the score knotted at zero.
In the bottom half of the inning, Zack Geloff came up in a big spot just as he’s done all year as he drove a Kouba fastball out of the park in left field, breaking the tie and giving Virginia a 1-0 lead. The Hoos weren’t finished though. After Teel singled to right, we got another strange sequence. With Marc Lebreux pinch running for Teel, a pick-off play at first resulted in Patriot first baseman Sosa appearing to step on Lebreux as he slid back into first. There was some worry that Lebreux would be called out as he never actually made it back to first, but after a (very) lengthy review, he was awarded second as it was determined Sosa obstructed the base path. After Ortiz walked, Tappen blew it wide open hitting a bomb into the left field stands to give Virginia a 4-0 lead.
Things got a little tense in the top of the ninth after Neeck surrendered a leadoff base hit to Jace Grady before giving way to Kyle Whitten. Whitten then gave up a walk to Benefield before striking out Wrobleski and Cole Moore. After Boulware squeaked a ball through the infield to load the bases, Whitten escaped with a Specht fly out to right field to preserve the win.
The third and deciding Game 3 will be played Monday at 1 PM and televised on ESPNU.