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No. 9 Virginia baseball falls to Keydets, 7-6

Cavaliers have five game win-streak snapped by VMI

Winners of five straight games, twelfth-ranked Virginia baseball team appeared to be on the way back to their early season dominance but relapsed in a home loss against VMI, 7-6.

“Credit to VMI,” coach Bryan O’Connor said. “I think that’s two years in a row that they’ve beaten us here.”

The Cavaliers (19-9, 6-6 ACC) wasted no time getting on the board. Sophomore shortstop Daniel Pinero lifted the second pitch he saw over the wall in left for a first-inning solo homer.

But command issues from Cavalier starter sophomore Jack Roberts ensured Virginia’s lead would be short-lived. Roberts loaded the bases with no out in the top of the second. O’Connor quickly brought in sophomore Alec Bettinger.

Bettinger retired the first two men he faced, although a run was scored on a groundout, and was one wild pitch away from keeping the contest knotted up. Instead, VMI led 2-1.

Both runs were charged to Roberts, who worked only 1 plus innings. Of Roberts’ 22 pitches, 11 did not find the zone.

Old habits returned for the Cavalier pitchers. Six hurlers combined to walk 10 men and hit an additional two batters.

“We gave away too many free passes,” O’Connor said.

Virginia tacked on one run apiece in innings three and four. In the third, freshman designated hitter Christian Lowry scored on a single by senior Kenny Towns. The Cavaliers parlayed a Keydet error into a run using small ball. Junior Robbie Coman started the inning by reaching second on a two-base error. A sacrifice bunt later, Coman came home on a groundout by junior Kevin Doherty.

In the meantime, Bettinger settled into a groove. The righty walked the leadoff batter in the third, but retired the next six men he faced — four with the strikeout. Had he not thrown 2.2 innings against Notre Dame Sunday, Bettinger may have worked longer against VMI.

“I wasn’t comfortable with how long he went,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t want to push him any farther, and other guys need to do the job, quite frankly.”

Freshman Tommy Doyle replaced Bettinger in the fifth inning, and the Keydets hit the Vienna, Virginia native hard — the first five batters reached base safely. VMI sent nine batters to the plate and hung three on the board. Doyle walked three, allowed four hits and gave a two-run home run to senior Jordan Tarsovich.

As was the case all afternoon, the Keydet advantage would not last long, as the Cavaliers drew even in the bottom of the frame with two runs of their own. Sophomore catcher Matt Thaiss and Towns stroked consecutive singles with one outs — a throwing error by senior first baseman Thomas Stallings on the Towns hit allowed both men to advance 90 feet.

With two men in scoring position, freshman Pavin Smith doubled down the left field line to score both.

Virginia scored the go ahead run — their third unanswered — in the bottom of the sixth. Freshman Christian Lowry singled with one out and later scored on a single by Thaiss.

O’Connor inserted Lowry into the nine spot last Tuesday against Georgetown, and the Chesapeake, Virginia native has remained there since. In that span, Lowry is 7-24, including a 2-4 effort against VMI.

“Christian Lowry’s done a nice job for us,” O’Connor said. “He’s been a tough out. Since we’ve moved him into the lineup consistently he’s done a really good job of allowing us to turn over our batting order. He has a really good approach there.”

VMI responded with two runs in the top of the seventh. Freshman Riley Cummins made his career debut, but could not retire either of the two batters he faced. O’Connor turned to Haseley, who allowed a two-run scoring single by sophomore Will Malbon.

Haseley pitched valiantly in his debut on the mound. Following Malbon’s knock, the lefty retired eight of the nine batters he faced, and struck out four.

“I knew I was somewhere in the line of pitchers coming up,” Haseley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been on a mound, but we’ve been working every day. [Pitching coach Karl Kuhn] let me know that my time was coming.”

Needing one run to send the game to extras, the Cavaliers sent batters three, four and five to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Thaiss, the leadoff batter, stung a ball, but hit it directly at the centerfielder for the first out. Towns then roped a single into center. Smith followed up with a single of his own, sending Towns to third. Smith then promptly stole second base.

With two outs, VMI junior Taylor Edens plunked freshman Ernie Clement to load the bases with Doherty at the plate. With a 2-2 count, Doherty skied a harmless fly ball to centerfield.

Wednesday’s loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Cavaliers. It also represented the fifth home loss in seven games for Virginia.

“What we’ve done over the last five or six years in this program is not done anywhere else in college baseball,” O’Connor said. “What we’re doing this year is more the norm of what top-flight programs do … When you’re running inexperienced pitchers out there for the most part this is what happens. You either overcome it or you don’t, and we didn’t overcome it.”

The Cavaliers now turn their attention to a three-game series against No. 8 Louisville which begins Saturday at Davenport Field — a series with serious conference implications for an in-conference .500 Virginia.


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