When Brian O’Connor needed pitching in Virginia baseball’s second elimination game of the day on Sunday, he turned to the bullpen. The Cavaliers had used all three of their weekend starters and reliever Stephen Schoch to get to this point of the Columbia Regional, so things were a little thin in the bullpen. The Hoos needed a win, and they got a stellar performances from the pitchers and enough from the Virginia bats to take down No. 1 seed Old Dominion, 8-3, and force a winner-takes-all final game tomorrow night.
Griff McGarry got the ball to start, and he came out throwing flames. He got the first six batters with swinging strikeouts across the first two innings as he played with hitting 100mph on the radar gun. Then, in the fourth, the combination of a finger injury and increased rain turned a great performance into disaster. The first two ODU batters hit solo home runs, then McGarry walked the bases loaded before he was pulled for Brandon Neeck.
Neeck walked in one run before getting out of the inning, and he was fantastic from then on out. He pitched 5.2 innings in relief, striking out 16 and keeping a talented ODU team at bay. His 16 strikeouts were the most for a Virginia reliever since 2000, and — when combined with McGarry’s eight strikeouts — the 24 thrown by the pitching staff is the most in UVA postseason history.
He had never struck out more than four batters before, but he was electric all night. Fourteen of the team’s 24 strikeouts were on swinging strikes, and ODU only got five hits. “[I] got us to tomorrow,” Neeck breathlessly told the commentators right after the game when asked about his performance. It was the most innings he had thrown since high school, and he said he thought he’d get the Hoos three innings,
“Drew [Dickinson, pitching coach] just kept telling me I was staying in there,” Neeck stated. “I felt good, so I was with it.”
Offensively, Virginia got off to a quick start with two runs in the top of the first, then two more in the top of the third. A Max Cotier single in the fourth gave Virginia a 5-0 lead, which ODU would trim to just a two-run advantage in the wacky fourth inning. A throwing error led to a run for the Hoos in the fifth, and catcher Logan Michaels added two runs of insurance with a right field single to make it an 8-3 game in the top of the ninth.
The Hoos got 10 hits in the game, led by Devin Ortiz and Michaels with two apiece. That duo also led the team with two RBI each.
Next up, Virginia faces ODU one more time in a win-or-go-home finale for the regional. That game is set for 7pm.