Chris Taylor. Ernie Clement. And now Kyle Teel.
Each one of those players has made a monster play to send the Virginia baseball team to Omaha, and the first year utility man added his name to that prestigious list on Monday afternoon with one swing of the bat. Down 2-1 to Dallas Baptist in the bottom of the seventh inning, Teel stepped into the batter’s box. It was an elimination game — Virginia’s sixth of the 2021 postseason — and the Cardiac Cavaliers had always managed to find a way to win with their backs against the wall.
This was no different.
First year Jake Gelof had singled to start the inning, and catcher Logan Michaels got him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Center fielder Chris Newell struck out, giving the Virginia one out to work with. DBU walked Zack Gelof on four pitches, bringing Max Cotier to the plate. The Cavalier second baseman had struggled in the series, going 1-for-12 at the plate to that point. A soft hit to the deep infield allowed the bases to fill for Teel as everyone was running on contact.
Teel worked a 2-2 count as the Virginia contingent of the 1,207 attendees nervously waited. He unleashed a strong swing, sending the ball deep. As he sprinted towards first, Teel adjusted his comically large — and now signature — batting helmet.
The ball squeaked over the centerfield wall, giving Virginia a 5-2 lead. “When I hit the ball, I didn’t think it was out,” Teel said with a smile after the game. “I thought I hit a deep fly out. Very, very grateful for it to go over the fence.”
Relief pitcher Matt Wyatt responded in the top of the eighth with a nine-pitch inning featuring two strikeouts and a ground out. Wyatt pitched 5.2 innings of two-hit baseball, closing the door on a talented and dangerous DBU team. In the bottom of the seventh, Wyatt was just like every Virginia fan.
“I was confident eventually something would get rolling with the offense,” Wyatt stated. “Getting those bases loaded with Kyle up, I was thinking in the back of my head like, ‘A grand slam would be nice here.’”
Teel had a chance to bring in the game-tying run in the bottom of the fifth, but struck out to strand Chris Newell on third. “Striking out just obviously sucks, but when there’s guys in scoring position you want to be the guy to get them in,” Teel explained. “That’s why I was so angry. I wanted to do it right then and there.”
Although he didn’t get the run in in the fifth, he more than made up for it in the seventh in a moment young players dream of. “Getting to Omaha [my] first year...it’s a dream come true,” Teel said. “I mean, that’s what I wanted to do since I was little. Virginia was always my dream school, and they’ve obviously been doing it in the past. I wanted to be a part of that. Our team has just been doing a great job every single day, just grinding it out, and we finally got the opportunity and we capitalized.”
Virginia has had a flair for the dramatic in recent history when it comes to getting to the College World Series. In 2015 — the last time Virginia made the CWS — Ernie Clement laced a single into the left field corner to walk-off against Maryland and send the Hoos back to Omaha. The Cavaliers would go on to win the program’s first — and only (so far) — National Championship.
In 2011, it was Chris Taylor that got the game-winning hit against UC-Irvine in the bottom of the ninth to clinch a CWS trip for Virginia. Taylor, now an All-Star caliber player for the World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, has been watching all the drama. “That was a big one for us,” Taylor told Eric Stephen of True Blue LA after Devin Ortiz sent Virginia to the Super Regionals with a walk-off homer against ODU. “I’m proud of them. It was an exciting game...so yeah, I’m pumped for them.”
The drama continues on Sunday, June 20, as the Hoos play Tennessee at 2pm on ESPN2.