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Baseball blows through competitors in the NCAA Tournament Columbia Regionals and advances to the Super Regionals

Multiple Cavaliers emerged as superstars throughout the five-game stretch

<p>The Cavaliers were ecstatic after their sensational win against the Monarchs.</p>

The Cavaliers were ecstatic after their sensational win against the Monarchs.

For the seventh time in program history, Virginia is advancing to the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. After falling to South Carolina in the first game, the Cavaliers (33-24, 18-18 ACC) were put into some tough situations and had no room for major errors. They proved to be as resilient as ever as they won four straight elimination games — one against Jacksonville, another against South Carolina (34-23, 16-14 SEC) and two against Old Dominion.

Game 1 — South Carolina 4, Virginia 3

In the opening game of the NCAA Tournament Columbia Regionals, Virginia was the victim of a comeback rally and fell 4-3. The Gamecocks were the first to score — a single run in the first inning — with senior left-hander Andrew Abbott throwing for the Cavaliers.

The duo of freshman infielder/outfielder Jake Gelof and junior infielder Zack Gelof were responsible for most of the offensive action, as they worked for the only three runs Virginia would put on the board. Jake Gelof popped in the second home run of his collegiate career in the third inning. Very shortly after, Zack Gelof hit a ball over the right wall — bringing him all the way around the diamond and tacking on another run for the Cavaliers.

Up 2-1, Virginia moved into the fourth inning and scored again as Jake Gelof ran in off a hit from Zack Gelof. A quiet fifth inning quickly turned into an explosive sixth for the Gamecocks, however, as they added three runs to their tally with Abbott still on the mound. Junior right-hander Zach Messinger came in as a relief pitcher and kept it within one. The Cavaliers didn’t recover on offense and finished down 4-3.

Game 2 — Virginia 13, Jacksonville 8

The first of multiple must-win games for Virginia was against Jacksonville (16-34, 3-15 ASUN) — a team that lost its first matchup as well. The Cavaliers were red-hot from the start and scored at least one run in every inning to win 13-8.

Although Virginia came out on top, the team wasn’t ahead for the entire game. The lead changed five times in the matchup, but the Cavaliers captured it with a five-run burst during the sixth inning and held on tight for the remainder of the competition.

“This is what you have to do when you fall into the losers’ bracket,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “Sometimes you gotta outslug somebody, and we certainly did that.”

Zack Gelof put on another great performance as he had four hits and two runs on the afternoon. Freshman catcher/infielder Kyle Teel also stood out with one run, two RBIs and a season-high four hits. In total, Virginia had 21 hits and set a program single-game NCAA Tournament record. On the other side, three Cavalier pitchers took the hill — junior right-hander Mike Vasil for two innings, senior right-hander Kyle Whitten for 2.1 and sophomore left-hander Nate Savino for the final 4.2 innings and, ultimately, the win. These pitching efforts and the offensive action advanced Virginia to the next round and ended the Dolphins’ season.

Game 3 — Virginia 3, South Carolina 2

While the Cavaliers were busy beating Jacksonville, South Carolina lost its game to the Monarchs (44-16, 22-10 C-USA) and was propelled into the elimination bracket with Virginia. This time, the Cavaliers learned from their earlier mistakes and defeated the Gamecocks by one.

Pitching for Virginia was sophomore right-hander Matt Wyatt in his second start of the 2021 campaign. Wyatt threw five shutout innings and only allowed two hits in the effort. When he wasn’t on the mound, the Cavaliers were knocking in runs during their at-bats. Sophomore infielder Max Cotier ran in off a hit from senior infielder/right-hander Devin Ortiz in the first, senior first-baseman/outfielder Alex Tappen homered into the left stands in the second and finally, Teel was plated after junior infielder Nic Kent hit a hard two-out double.

The Gamecocks nearly came back after they brought in runs during the sixth and seventh inning, but graduate right-hander Stephen Schoch brought the heat and fanned five batters, saving the game and sending Virginia into the regional finals for the first time since 2015. He also delivered one of the best postgame interviews ever that has garnered attention from ESPN, Barstool Sports and Dippin’ Dots, among others.

Game 4 — Virginia 8, Old Dominion 3

Later in the evening on the same day as the South Carolina win, Virginia had to face Old Dominion. In order to advance to the Super Regionals, the Cavaliers needed to beat the Monarchs twice. In the first matchup, they had a magnificent, record-breaking showing that led to an 8-3 win.

Junior left-hander Brandon Neeck earned his first win of the season and set a program record for the most strikeouts in a single postseason game with 16. He started pitching in the fourth inning after taking over for senior right-hander Griff McGarry, who struck out eight batters and allowed three runs in 3.1 innings of work. This duo combined to strikeout 24 batters — the most in a nine-inning NCAA game this season.

While the pitching prowess was the talk of the night, Virginia’s offense did not go unnoticed. The Cavaliers were up 2-0 in the first inning after Teel captured an RBI single and Kent, a sacrifice fly. In the third inning, Ortiz doubled the lead with a two-run homer. A hit from Cotier allowed Teel to run in — providing Virginia its fifth run just four innings into the game.

The Cavaliers would add three more runs in the remainder of the game — all of which were unearned — and send the team to one final clash which stood between them and the Super Regionals.

Game 5, Columbia Regional Championship — Virginia 4, Old Dominion 3

The final game of the NCAA Tournament Columbia Regional bracket was a winner-takes-all tilt that pinned the Cavaliers against Old Dominion yet again. First pitch was originally set for Monday night, but inclement weather forced the game to be rescheduled for Tuesday morning.

When the first pitch was finally thrown, both teams were slow to start. Ortiz took the hill for his first career start and he threw a career-high six strikeouts in four innings for Virginia — all of which were scoreless for the Monarchs. After Ortiz exited the game, Messenger and Abbott both pitched a bit until Schoch took over in the seventh.

Old Dominion actually scored first — banging in a run during the sixth inning which put the Cavaliers down 0-1 to end the frame. Virginia tied the game with a double play and proceeded to take a 2-1 lead a few minutes later as Teel ran in off an RBI single from Tappen. 

The Monarchs tied the game then regained a one-run lead in the eighth. Under immense pressure, the Cavaliers stepped up and Zack Gelof knotted it at three thanks to a wild Old Dominion pitch. Neither team could capture the lead by the end of the ninth, forcing extra innings. Schoch pitched a scoreless tenth, giving his team the chance to win in their part of the frame.

Virginia did just that. Ortiz hit a huge walk-off homer that sent the team out of the bullpen in celebration. It was only appropriate, it seemed, that the player who started the game on the mound was the one to finish.

“This one, it felt really good,” Ortiz said. “This is what I came here to do.”

This win advanced the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals for the first time since 2015. Virginia continues down the road to the College World Series Saturday at noon, as it will face Dallas Baptist on ESPNU in the first installment of a best-of-three series.

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