Virginia senior infielder Devin Ortiz hadn’t played in the field for any of the Cavaliers’ first four games in the Columbia Regional, instead filling the role of designated hitter. On Tuesday morning, in a rare, rain-delayed morning game, Ortiz took the mound as a starter for the first time in his college career. The Cavaliers were in their fourth-straight elimination game after losing their opener to host squad South Carolina, and they would move on to the school’s seventh Super Regional if they could pull off something never done in program history by going from opening loss to champ.
The Hoos had gotten phenomenal — albeit a little surprising — pitching performances out of Stephen Schoch, Matt Wyatt, Griff McGarry, and Brandon Neeck in the previous elimination games, but Virginia was running out of arms.
Enter Ortiz. The righty from New Jersey had pitched two innings over the last two calendar years and was used in relief as Virginia’s only two-way player in 2019. On Tuesday against the Monarchs, he dealt four innings of shutout baseball, striking out a career high six batters and walking two.
But his performance wasn’t limited to just the rubber. For as strongly as Ortiz started the game, he more emphatically ended it. After playing to a deadlocked scoreless first five innings, the two teams traded runs — and the lead — with Virginia rallying to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth.
Stellar pitching from Schoch in relief got the Cavalier defense through the top of the ninth and tenth without giving up a run, and, after threatening in the ninth, the Hoos came up looking to end the game in extras. Kyle Teel, who threw an absolute laser from right field to get Brock Gagliardi at home and end the eighth only down one run, grounded into an out to open the tenth.
Then it was Ortiz time. He fell behind 0-1 in the count looking at a strike from ODU reliever Aaron Holiday, but evened the count at 1-1 after taking a ball. Ortiz got the pitch he wanted on pitch three, smacking a no-doubter into the Monarchs’ bullpen and punching Virginia’s ticket to the Super Regional with one swing.
“In my past home runs prior, I usually run hard out of the box, because I never really know,” Ortiz said of the shot that gave Virginia the 4-3 victory. “But this one, you know, it felt really good and immediately I knew.”
The Cavaliers needed a hero, and Ortiz was the latest in recent history to step up. This was Virginia’s first walk-off home run in NCAA tournament play, and the first since Kenny Towns hit a walk-off dinger in the 2013 ACC tournament. Ortiz earned Most Outstanding Player for the Columbia regional, joined by five of his teammates on the All-Regional team.
For head coach Brian O’Connor, there was no doubt in his mind Ortiz was the man for the job. “I’ll tell you it first and foremost, I know what Devin Ortiz is made of,” O’Connor said after the game. “I’ll never forget going up to his home in New Jersey when he was a senior and sitting down with his family. This is well after he had committed to us, and I got it really good understanding the background that this guy comes from. And it’s special. He’s He’s tough. He’s been hardened. He’s got wonderful parents. He was raised the right way.”
This was Virginia’s first postseason since 2017, and Ortiz and Co.’s heroics propelled the Hoos to their first Super Regional since 2015. No one on the 2021 squad had any postseason experience prior to this weekend, but it’s exactly what they had in mind when committing to play for the Cavaliers.
“I’m proud of them, because I know, this is a big reason why they came to Virginia, right? To have a chance to win championships,” O’Connor explained. “They also came to Virginia to get a great education, and they also came to Virginia because they all aspire to play at the highest level of baseball. This box is checked for them to have the opportunity to play in a Super Regional like they’ll have this weekend.”
Now, Virginia will stay in Columbia and face Dallas Baptist in the Super Regional round. The Patriots upset host-team TCU, emerging out of the Ft. Worth Regional. DBU is a No. 3-seed, just like the Cavaliers. The first game is scheduled for noon on June 12th, and it will be televised by ESPNU.
“I think it’s an honor, really, you know, this program and its legacy is is something like no other,” Ortiz said. “This is what I came here to do. I wanted to come to Virginia, I wanted to play in these big situations, and I wanted to help my team win most importantly. Something like today is something you dream about.”