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Virginia baseball downs Virginia Tech and Notre Dame before ending season with loss to Duke in ACC semifinal

Despite a nail-biting win against the Hokies and dominant performance against the Fighting Irish, the Blue Devils secured a spot in the ACC Championship with a 4-2 win Saturday

<p>The Virginia baseball team had a strong showing across each of their final three games, however were unable capture victory in their last bout against Duke.&nbsp;</p>

The Virginia baseball team had a strong showing across each of their final three games, however were unable capture victory in their last bout against Duke. 

Virginia traveled to Charlotte, N.C. last week to compete in the ACC Tournament at Truist Field. The Cavaliers (29-23, 18-18 ACC) opened pool play against Virginia Tech, winning 3-2 to advance to play Notre Dame Friday. Virginia toppled the Fighting Irish (30-11, 25-10 ACC) 14-1, cruising offensively and with a dominant defensive presence against the top-seeded and seventh-ranked team. Up against Duke in the semifinals, the Blue Devils (31-20, 16-17 ACC) continued their hot streak with a 4-2 win to eliminate Virginia from the tournament Saturday. 

Game 1 — Virginia 3, Virginia Tech 2

The ACC Tournament opened up May 25 with the Cavaliers and the Hokies (27-24, 16-20 ACC) competing against one another in Pool A. Virginia was the first to score in the game, as graduate catcher Logan Michaels ran in off a sacrifice fly from freshman first baseman Jake Gelof in the second inning. Adding to the lead was freshman right fielder Kyle Teel, who knocked in a two-run homer in the bottom of the third.

It was a quiet fourth and fifth inning for both teams, but Virginia Tech attempted to mount a comeback in the sixth. The Hokies scored a two-run homer of their own in the sixth, but ultimately came up short of the tie. Neither team put a run on the board for the rest of the game, and the Cavaliers’ early lead proved to be enough to take the 3-2 win.

The lack of offensive production for the Hokies can be partially attributed to junior right-hander Zach Messinger of Virginia, who made his first postseason appearance in this game. Messinger pitched 5.1 innings and struck out six batters during his time on the mound, bringing him to 3-1 this season. Additionally, four other pitchers were brought in after him for relief. Junior left-hander Brandon Neeck, senior right-hander Blake Bales, senior left-hander Andrew Abbott and senior right-hander Kyle Whitten combined to face 12 Virginia Tech players at-bat and none of them surrendered a run.

Game 2 — Virginia 14, Notre Dame 1

Days later in the second round of Pool A play, the Cavaliers faced top-seeded Notre Dame. Almost immediately, Virginia showed what it was made of as it scored five runs in the second inning. First, junior Nic Kent hit a home run and put the Cavaliers up 2-0. Senior first baseman Alex Tappen followed in Kent’s footsteps with a two-run homer of his own. Finally, Jake Gelof hit the first home run of his collegiate career — skewing the score 5-0 in Virginia’s favor.

These three home runs would be a feat for any team, but particularly for anybody batting against Notre Dame graduate left-hander John Michael Bertrand. Bertrand hadn’t allowed multiple home runs in a game since 2019 when he was a pitcher at Furman, let alone three in a single inning. He was pulled off the mound following this inning — finishing without a single out.

“It seemed like his stuff was alright today, but we just kind of punished the mistakes,” junior infielder Zack Gelof said. “He was leaving the off-speed pitches up in the zone, where his success is kind of the fastballs and the off speed out of the zone.”

Gelof did some damage of his own in the game. He batted in a three-run homer in the fifth inning after senior infielder Devin Ortiz tacked on an RBI single to the already-mounting Cavalier lead. Virginia continued to pound in insurance runs throughout the game — finishing at the top of the ninth up 14-0.

The Fighting Irish added a single run in the bottom of the ninth, but every previous attempt they made throughout the game was quickly extinguished by one of the Cavalier pitchers on the bump. Abbott pitched 6.1 innings and became the second Virginia pitcher to hit the 300 strikeout mark in orange and blue. Graduate right-hander Stephen Schoch and sophomore right-hander Matt Wyatt handled the remainder of the game and held Notre Dame to just that one run.

Virginia’s 14 runs in this game were tied for the most in an ACC Tournament game in the school’s history. All-in-all, they were more than enough to advance the Cavaliers to the semifinals against Duke — the team’s first semifinal appearance since 2011.

Game 3 — Virginia 2, Duke 4

Virginia concluded its tournament run Saturday with a 4-2 loss against Duke in the ACC semifinals. The Blue Devils built a three-run lead in the first three innings, mounting a deficit that the Cavaliers struggled to overcome offensively through the rest of the matchup. 

Junior right-hander Mike Vasil started on the hill for Virginia, throwing 4.1 innings and giving up seven hits with five strikeouts. Two of his Ks landed in the first inning, but Duke was able to get on the board early as senior center fielder Joey Loperfido led the inning with a solo home run. 

The Blue Devils continued the scoring with a pair of runs in the third inning. Once again two solo home runs added to Duke’s advantage, with another coming off the bat of Loperfido and one by junior shortstop Ethan Murray for his second of the season. The Cavaliers responded in the bottom of the inning, getting into the scoring column as Tappen notched his second home run of the tournament. 

Virginia got within one in the fourth inning after a single by Michaels brought in Teel, but the Blue Devils were quick to respond, capitalizing on a Cavalier fielding error to make it a two-run game. Both offenses were quiet in the final four innings. Sophomore relievers Jimmy Loper and Marcus Johnson combined for a perfect final two innings to preserve the 4-2 win and give Duke a shot at the ACC title. 

“You know, I thought that we played really well this week, just ran into a great starting pitcher and a really, really hot team,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “You know, what Duke has done down this stretch is — as impressive as what we've done, it's even more impressive what they've done. Kudos to them. They've done a nice job, and they're playing some great baseball with a veteran team.”

Virginia is set to play South Carolina Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The game is scheduled for 12 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.


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