For 23rd-ranked Virginia baseball, bad news of player injuries has dominated the season, but good news finally prevailed Wednesday afternoon with the inclusion of junior outfielder Joe McCarthy and freshman second baseman Jack Gerstenmaier in coach Brian O’Connor’s lineup.
“That was a really fun baseball game,” O’Connor said. “I was really proud of how our guys competed.”
The duo shined in their return from injury, and the Cavaliers (22-14, 7-11 ACC) welcomed them back with a 3-2 victory.
“Having [McCarthy and Gerstenmaier] playing tonight for the first time this season and having them perform was really cool,” O’Connor said.
The Tribe (15-19, 6-6 CAA) jumped ahead with a quick run in the third inning. Freshman Cullen Large singled and scored on a double by junior Ryan Hissey — both hits came with two outs in the frame.
Virginia struck for four in the fourth, and both McCarthy and Gerstenmaier were in the thick of the action. Senior third baseman Kenny Towns launched the second pitch of his at-bat over the wall near the 370-foot marker in left-center for a leadoff homer — his third of the season.
With the blast, the Lake Braddock alum surpassed his 2014 home run tally.
McCarthy backed up Towns’ round tripper with a single into right field. He would later score on a Gerstenmaier single.
Cavalier starter freshman Derek Casey could not secure the all-important shutdown inning in the next half-frame. With two outs, he hit freshman Luca Farina and then balked to advance him 90 feet. William & Mary would capitalize on the mistakes of the young righty as Large tied the game with a single.
Virginia’s midweek starter turned in another solid outing, working six innings of two-run ball on five hits and zero walks. In his last four starts the Mechanicsville, Virginia native has allowed only eight earned runs in 21.2 innings — good for a 3.32 ERA.
“[Casey] would bend, but he would not break and give up the big inning,” O’Connor said. “[He] is somebody who is really maturing, and that is certainly a positive.”
Towns, the Cavaliers’ leading RBI man, put his team ahead for good in the seventh. Sophomore Daniel Pinero led off the inning with a single, advanced to third on a balk and wild pitch and scored on a Towns’ single.
“Kenny is a senior and the leader of this team,” McCarthy said. “We expect him to step up in big situations like that, and he looks forward to being put in big situations like that — that’s what I love about that kid.”
From there, the Virginia bullpen shut down Tribe batters. Sophomore Alec Bettinger threw two perfect innings to earn his third win. Junior Josh Sborz struck out two in a clean ninth inning for his ninth save of the year.
“We needed that,” O’Connor said. “Alec Bettinger has been pitching some great ball for us. We needed to be darn near perfect with our pen, and we got it.”
McCarthy required 77 days to recover from back surgery. Wednesday, he played as if he never missed a game, going 2-3 with a walk and run scored. The 2014 All-American and the coaching staff had complete confidence in his back — he played right field, beat out an infield single and scored from second on a single into left.
“The doctors did such a great job, and they said that [McCarthy] was ready to go,” O’Connor said.
“There was no hesitation from him wanting to do it, and it was great to see.”
Perhaps overshadowed by McCarthy was Gerstenmaier. The Richmond, Virginia native tore his hamstring during the first game of the fall season. At the time, he was Virginia’s starting second baseman.
In his college debut, Gerstenmaier had three hits in four at-bats, and was a diving catch away from a perfect day at the plate. Though only a freshman, he battled at the plate like a veteran and made both routine and spectacular plays in the field.
“I was sitting back and wanted to be aggressive,” Gerstenmaier said. “I saw the ball well and was able to do that. It was a lot of fun.”
Adding to this impressive feat is the simple fact that Gerstenmaier did not know he was cleared to play until earlier in the day.
The return of McCarthy, a solid outing from the bullpen and a one-run victory all added up to a vintage Cavalier victory.
“Just having [McCarthy] in there made it feel like last year,” Towns said.
Virginia now rides the euphoria of this reunion into a crucial home series with ninth-ranked Miami. From here on out, the Cavaliers are playing for a spot in the ACC Tournament.