Saturday’s Super Regional contest played out eerily similar to Friday’s opening game. No. 15 Maryland’s batters battled hard against 14th-ranked Virginia’s starting pitcher to build an advantage while the Cavaliers’ offense lagged behind.
Then, for the second day in a row, magic happened, and this time freshman Ernie Clement provided it. Facing junior closer Kevin Mooney with none out, the bases loaded in the ninth and trailing by one, Clement roped a liner into left field that sent the Cavaliers rushing from their dugout. The Rochester, New York native’s clutch single gave Virginia (39-22, 15-15 ACC) the 5-4 victory and punched their ticket to Omaha.
“You’re proud of every team you coach,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “This [team] is really, really special. This game was a reflection of our season: we hung in there, the guys didn’t quit and we found a way.”
The Cavaliers had not led since the fourth inning. They scored twice in the bottom of the first and chased Maryland freshman Ryan Selmer after only one-third of an inning, but Terrapin junior Anthony Papio, who reached on a leadoff double, scored on a fielder’s choice in the fourth to erase the Virginia advantage.
Virginia junior Brandon Waddell struggled to retire Maryland (42-24, 14-10 Big Ten) leadoff hitters throughout the game. In the eight innings that Waddell worked, the first man to bat reached base five times. The leadoff man scored all four of the Terrapins’ runs.
Nothing came easy for Waddell Saturday. The Houston, Texas native labored through eight innings and surrendered four runs on ten hits and two walks. Waddell also struck out seven.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Waddell said. “It’s part of the game. You aren’t going to be there every day that you go out there. It was just a grind. The big thing is we got the win. We’re going to Omaha.”
On multiple occasions Waddell bent, but he never broke, keeping the Cavaliers in the game.
Virginia entered the ninth inning trailing Maryland 4-2 — a Papio triple pushed across the Terrapins’ final run in the eighth inning. Sophomore Alec Bettinger pitched a clean top of the ninth inning to set up the Cavalier bats in the bottom half.
Maryland coach John Szefc elected to stick with junior Robert Galligan, who replaced Selmer in the first inning, to start the ninth. Up to that point, Galligan had retired 21 of the 26 batters he had faced.
“[Galligan] had kept them off-balance for a long period of time,” Szefc said. “[Left-handed batter Smith] led off the inning, so we were going to let him face the lefty and see what happened.”
Galligan walked Smith to begin the frame. Junior Robbie Coman singled, and then junior Joe McCarthy walked to load the bases, prompting Szefc to make the move to Mooney.
“We had full trust in everyone up there to get their job done, and they did,” Thaiss said.
Mooney walked Friday’s hero, junior Kevin Doherty, to push across a run. The next batter, Clement, ended the game.
“We were saying the pressure was on [Maryland],” Clement said. “The scouting report said [Mooney’s] go-to pitch was his breaking ball, and that turned out to be what I got.”
Clement’s heroics will be forever immortalized in the annals of Virginia baseball, much like Chris Taylor’s walk-off against UC-Irvine to send the Cavaliers to the 2011 College World Series.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” Clement said of his place in Virginia history. “I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Cavaliers — fighting for their ACC Tournament lives just a month and a half ago — now prepare for their fourth trip to the College World Series.
“I think everyone in our clubhouse would have [believed we would make it to Omaha,” Thaiss said. “All year we’ve know what we’ve had. We know we’re a great team… We saw the talent that we had and we had to put it together at the right time.”