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No. 17 Virginia baseball wins the series in Chapel Hill, but picks up its first loss of the season

Virginia won its first road series against No. 14 North Carolina since 2015, but is undefeated no more.

<p>Junior third baseman Jake Gelof hit his 30th career home run for the Cavaliers, padding a draft-worthy resume.</p>

Junior third baseman Jake Gelof hit his 30th career home run for the Cavaliers, padding a draft-worthy resume.

Virginia baseball opened conference play with its first series against a ranked opponent this season. The No. 17 Cavaliers (14-1, 2-1 ACC) went 2-1 against the No. 14 Tar Heels (12-5, 1-2 ACC), in Chapel Hill, N.C. and maintained their first-place spot in the Coastal Division standings this weekend. 

Game 1 – Virginia 7, North Carolina 3  

Sophomore infielder Griff O’Ferrall led off the first inning with a single then advanced to second base on a passed ball. By the time junior infielder Jake Gelof came to bat, O’Ferrall was already on third base with just one out. Gelof drove O’Ferrall home, and the Cavaliers had North Carolina in trouble early.

Virginia built up a commanding 6-0 lead before the Tar Heels got to their fifth batter. Sophomore infielder Justin Rubin cranked a two-RBI double to left field — he was succeeded by junior outfielder Ethan O’Donnell, who put the exclamation mark on a five-run second inning with a three RBI blast over right field.

O’Ferrall led Virginia with three hits — sophomore outfielder Casey Saucke, sophomore utility player Ethan Anderson and Gelof were close behind with two hits apiece. The Cavaliers as a team fought for seven runs on 13 hits — only three of which were extra-base hits. 

The Virginia offense had a productive outing, but it was the defense that led the way to victory by holding North Carolina to just three runs, eight hits and only one extra-base hit. 

Graduate student reliever Angelo Tonas earned the win for his two shutout innings. He sports a strong 3.38 ERA. Junior reliever Jake Berry held the Tar Heels to one run in three innings earning the save.  Berry is one of only six undefeated pitchers in the ACC to have a 0.00 ERA in more than five appearances.

A significant highlight of the first game, Gelof became just the sixth Cavalier in program history to hit 30 career home runs — joining the exclusive club with a towering shot past center field in the sixth inning. His home run gave Virginia a 7-2 lead, erasing any doubt of a Cavalier victory.

Gelof is currently projected to be drafted 19th overall in the upcoming MLB Draft by Keith Law of The Athletic. 

Game 2 – Virginia 8, North Carolina 4                  

Graduate student pitcher Brian Edgington started the game and Virginia faced a 3-0 deficit for the first four innings due to a strong start by an elite Tar Heel offense.

The Cavaliers mustered six hits in the first four innings, but were not able to convert hits into runs — North Carolina made excellent plays in the field to hinder Virginia’s powerful attack. Anderson and freshman infielder Henry Godbout singled back to back in the second inning, then again in the fourth inning to help load the bases for O’Donnell. He grounded out to the shortstop, to no positive result on the scoreboard. 

Anderson and Godbout finally scored when both had an RBI each to kickstart the Cavalier comeback in the fifth inning. The Virginia offense would respond by exploding for eight runs in the next four innings. 

O’Donnell showcased an impressive hitting range, crushing a powerful opposite-field home run — his second of the series and fourth of the season. 

The Cavaliers’ 15 hits nearly doubled North Carolina’s eight. Three Tar Heel errors stood out against Virginia’s none. The Cavaliers only struck out four times and no player had more than one strikeout. 

Saucke, Anderson and O’Donnell all had multiple hits in consecutive games. Cavaliers with multiple hits in the second game also included junior catcher Kyle Teel and Godbout. Godbout’s .425 batting average is ninth-best in the conference and second among all ACC freshmen.

Anderson had a phenomenal game at the plate, going 4-5 with three RBIs. He is now slashing .438, good for seventh in the conference and first among all ACC first basemen. His infield partner, sophomore infielder Justin Rubin, is making a claim to be Virginia’s primary second baseman. He made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch halfway to the right field wall in the first inning— a top-five play on Sports Center. 

Virginia’s bullpen performed well again in the second game, as senior reliever Jacob Hodorovich picked up his first win of the season. Hodorovich retired four Tar Heels including two strikeouts before sophomore reliever Jay Woolfolk added two strikeouts of his own and shut the door with just one run allowed in two innings. Woolfolk has only allowed two runs in seven appearances.

Game 3 – Virginia 0, North Carolina 6         

After dominating in the first two games of the series, the Cavaliers struggled in the final game due to not scoring with runners in scoring position. Virginia left runners on base in seven innings in the shutout loss. 

North Carolina junior pitcher Matt Poston only struck out three Cavaliers but was able to force soft contact and keep the ball out of gaps between fielders. Poston has a 0.00 ERA — the shutout loss was due to strong Tar Heel pitching and not the usually outstanding Virginia offense.

Freshman pitcher Jack O’Connor started the game well — tossing four scoreless innings but picked up his first loss of the season as he surrendered two runs in the fifth inning. 

Freshman relievers Bradley Hodges and Evan Blanco both gave up runs in their first ACC appearances as well. Hodges gave up two runs in two innings, and Blanco gave up one hit in one inning — a Tar Heel solo blast to left field. In four appearances each, Blanco has an excellent 2.25 ERA and Hodges has a stable 4.32 ERA. The trio of freshman pitchers only allowed one extra-base hit each but were not able to hold down a respectable North Carolina attack. 

Virginia earned four walks and two hits in the first four innings. The Cavalier offense generated just five hits total in the final game — two of which were by O’Donnell, who hit .357 across the series. 

Virginia’s offense earned six walks total and stranded a season-high 11 Cavaliers on base. 

After the series victory, an incredible seven Virginia starters are still hitting above .300. Three starting pitchers still have an ERA under 2.62.

The 2023 Cavaliers have had a similar start to last year’s squad, starting the season 14-0 before dropping the finale of their opening ACC series. The 2022 team finished the year 17-13 in conference games, placing third in the Coastal Division. Winning the first of nine series of conference play, the Cavaliers are on track to improve upon last year’s results. Virginia is aiming to maintain the hot start deep into conference play. 

Virginia hosts George Washington in Charlottesville at Disharoon Park Tuesday at 4 p.m. before traveling to Raleigh, N.C. for a three-game road series against No. 23 NC State beginning Thursday. The Cavaliers will look to capture their second straight conference series win and advance in the national rankings. All games will be broadcast on ACC Network.