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Virginia baseball takes two of three in its opening series against UConn

The Cavaliers open up their season against the Huskies and win the first and last game of the home series, losing the second

No. 14 Virginia opened its season at Disharoon Park on Friday evening with a 2-1 win against UConn as pitchers on both sides put on dominant performances on the hill. The Huskies came in and managed to outscore the Cavaliers by just one in the second game, with a final score 10-9. In the final game of the series, Virginia bounced back and won 4-2.

Game 1 — Virginia 2, UConn 1

Senior lefty Andrew Abbott, the Cavaliers’ new No. 1 and Friday starter on the mound, came up with the first win of the season for the team — recording a career-high nine strikeouts and allowing just two hits in his fourth career start.

The Cavaliers jumped on the board in the first inning as leadoff batter junior shortstop Nic Kent set up the opportunity with a single. Junior infielder Zack Gelof followed suit with a blooper that dropped in the shallow outfield, moving Kent into scoring position and giving cleanup hitter senior outfielder Alex Tappen a chance to drive in the first run of the game. Tappen worked the count to a walk, loading the bases, and graduate catcher Logan Michaels took a ball to the head — turning away from the fastball and avoiding injury — to bring in Kent and give Virginia its first run of the season.

Later in the third, Virginia scored the deciding run with bases loaded as Tappen offered a groundout to bring in senior infielder Marc Lebreux. While the Cavaliers ultimately brought home the win Friday, their offense was stifled by Husky junior right-hander Ben Casparius, who was able to limit the scoring and allowed just four hits in 5.2 innings pitched.

UConn cut the score in half in the seventh inning with a solo shot over the right field wall by freshman first-baseman Reggie Crawford. The Huskies failed to produce through the next pair of innings, giving Virginia a 1-0 start to the season. 

“It’s been 11 months and it’s sure great to be back out on that field competing,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “UConn has a veteran team, a really talented team, as do we. This was just game one of three games that are going to be really, really hard fought and we’re just excited to get the first win of the season.”

Unfortunately for Cavalier fans, the second game did not prove to be nearly as fruitful as the first.

Game 2 — Virginia 9, UConn 10

Unlike the opening game of the series, Saturday’s afternoon matchup proved to be a high-scoring affair as UConn narrowly defeated Virginia 10-9. Despite the Cavaliers’ ninth inning attempt to bridge a two-run deficit, bringing in two runs and looking to even the score at 10, the Huskies secured the win to split the series 1-1.

After three innings of scoreless baseball, UConn took the lead in the fourth inning as freshman third-baseman Chris Brown drove in a pair of runs with a shallow fly ball to center field. Virginia responded in the bottom of the fifth, stealing back the lead with a bases-clearing shot by Gelof — it was, however, the only time the Cavaliers led the Huskies, as UConn scored four runs to leave the score at 6-3 in the sixth.

Virginia tied the game at seven in the seventh inning, but in the remaining pair of innings UConn combined for three runs, and while the Cavaliers made a valiant ninth-inning attempt to overcome the deficit — Michaels and Tappen scored off a fly ball by senior infielder Devin Ortiz — the score sat at 10-9 as UConn sophomore reliever Caleb Wurster recorded the win. 

“It was a tough, hard-fought game,” O’Connor said. “It wasn’t a pretty game with the walks on both sides. I felt like if we were able to get a shutout inning somewhere towards the back part of the game, we’d have a chance to win the game.”

In the 24 hours between this game and the next, O’Connor’s team would take the loss to heart and make improvements that proved beneficial.

Game 3 — Virginia 4, UConn 2

Looking to recover from a hard-fought loss, the Cavaliers prepared well and came out strong in the first inning of the final game in the series. 

Junior righthander Mike Vasil started pitching for the Cavaliers in the top of the first. After throwing seven balls, Virginia’s hitters took the plate and quickly put a run on the board. A strong single and a stolen second base from Kent put Lebreux in a great position. He hit a strong ball to his right side, allowing Kent to run in and score.

Shortly following that, Ortiz would bring the Cavaliers up 2-0 after an RBI ground-out. UConn would retaliate with a run of its own off a wild pitch from Vasil in the top of the second, but Virginia quickly answered and put another run on the board.

Still up 3-1, the sixth inning proved crucial for the Cavaliers. With a hitter on second and two outs, there was pressure on Vasil to prove himself and prevent the Huskies from scoring. Vasil ended up striking out the opposition and keeping UConn at bay.

The bottom of the seventh returned scoring for Virginia after graduate right-hander Paul Kosanovich managed to pitch a scoreless top of the inning. With two outs, Michaels hit a ball to the right side which allowed Gelof to run in and score — putting the Cavaliers up 4-1. 

Both teams were quiet during the eighth inning — Virginia pitching another scoreless frame with senior right-hander Blake Bales at the helm.

In the top of the ninth, graduate right-hander Stephen Schoch took the mound for the Cavaliers but wasn’t pitching his best. He threw the team’s one walk of the day and made a fielding error but ultimately finished with a strikeout to end the game 4-2.

“I think our energy and effort was really good today,” Kent said. “That’s what you need on championships Sundays in order to win the series, get those two wins for the weekend.”

Virginia will return to Disharoon Park — hopefully with the same electric energy — for a one-off against Virginia Military Institute on Tuesday. It will be broadcasted on the ACC Network at 3 p.m.