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Virginia baseball drops two of three to Pittsburgh

A historic home winning streak came to a close over the weekend

<p>The Cavaliers battled back Sunday to avoid the sweep.</p>

The Cavaliers battled back Sunday to avoid the sweep.

In a surprising weekend of action at Disharoon Park, the Virginia baseball team was handed its first and second home losses of the season Friday and Saturday, respectively, before salvaging the series with a victory Sunday afternoon.

In front of a large, energetic crowd that enjoyed beautiful weather and ballpark promotions throughout the weekend, the Cavaliers (31-6, 12-6 ACC) were handed just their second ACC series loss of the season by a Panthers (16-18, 7-9 ACC) squad that has struggled to find consistency thus far in 2023.

Game 1 — Virginia 5, Pittsburgh 7

Graduate pitcher Brian Edgington got the start for Virginia Friday evening. The right-handed transfer from Elon was coming off a dominant seven-inning, 10 strikeout performance against Miami, but was not quite able to replicate that outing against Pittsburgh as he allowed five runs on seven hits in just 4.1 innings of work. 

The Panthers got on the board in the top of the opening frame as each of their first two batters reached base before senior infielder Noah Martinez capitalized with an RBI fielder’s choice to put the Panthers up 1-0. 

Edgington managed to escape the inning without any additional damage and kept Pittsburgh scoreless through the second and third.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Cavaliers offense got on the board. Sophomore infielder Griff O’Ferrall led things off with a double down the leftfield line. After advancing to third on a groundout, O’Ferrall came into score on junior infielder Jake Gelof’s sac-fly.

Three pitches later, junior catcher Kyle Teel took a 1-1 fastball the other way, sneaking a homer over the left field fence to put Virginia up 2-1.

It was a short-lived lead for the Cavaliers, however, as the Panthers put up three runs in the top of the fourth on three hits including a two-run home run by junior infielder Justin Acal.

Pittsburgh managed to tack on an insurance run in both the fifth and sixth innings, forcing Virginia to tap into their bullpen.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh trailing by four runs, Gelof gave the Cavaliers some life as he launched the first pitch of the inning over the left-field bleachers and out of the yard. Down 6-3, Virginia threatened to trim the deficit further, but they left two runners on base after having two-on with just one out.

Gelof again provided a spark with an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth, but Martinez answered in the top of the ninth to put the Panthers back up 7-4.

The Cavaliers again showed signs of a late rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring one run and eventually bringing the tying run to the plate, but Pittsburgh shut the door to secure the victory.

Game 2 — Virginia 4, Pittsburgh 6

In front of the fourth-largest crowd in Disharoon Park history Saturday, the Virginia offense was held to just six hits overall and one run in the final eight innings of play.

Three batters into the game, a quiet offensive performance certainly did not seem like it would be the story of the game for the Cavaliers. O’Ferrall led things off with a double to left center field before advancing to second on junior outfielder Ethan O’Donnell’s walk. Then, with two-on and nobody out, Gelof blasted his second home run of the series to left field, putting Virginia up 3-0.

After the explosive start, the Cavaliers’ offense cooled down quickly, managing just four hits and one run over the final eight innings. Pittsburgh’s starter, junior right-hander Logan Evans, settled in nicely after the shaky start, striking out nine batters over the course of seven dominant innings.

Virginia’s pitching staff was just as shaky as their offense Saturday. Graduate right-hander Nick Parker got the start but only lasted 3.1 innings and surrendered three runs on six hits. All the damage off Parker came in a three-run, game-tying third inning for the Panthers which featured RBI base-hits from Martinez and graduate outfielder Kyle Hess.

Junior pitcher Jake Berry took over in relief for the middle innings. Berry struck out seven batters in three innings of work but did allow Pittsburgh to take the lead in the sixth inning on an RBI single by senior infielder Jack Anderson. The Panthers were also able to tack on a pair of insurance runs off Berry in the seventh, extending their lead to 6-3, thanks in part to a well-executed safety squeeze by junior catcher Johnny Long III.

Sophomore infielder Anthony Stephan blasted his first career home run to draw the Cavaliers within two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but the rally ended there as Virginia dropped game two of the series.

Game 3 — Virginia 8, Pittsburgh 5

The Cavaliers avoided getting swept for the first time this season with a win on what was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville.

Virginia got their best pitching performance of the weekend from Sunday’s starter, freshman pitcher Jack O’Connor. He went six innings, giving up just one run on three hits while striking out four. O’Connor gave up his lone run of the outing in the second inning on junior outfielder CJ Funk’s solo home run, but quickly settled back down and didn’t allow a hit in his final three innings.

Offensively, the Cavaliers were much improved on Sunday as well. Virginia racked up 14 hits, thanks in part to three-hit efforts from both O’Donnell and Anderson. 

Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, the Cavaliers tied the game up on a beautifully executed squeeze play, returning the favor from Saturday night.

In the bottom of the sixth, Virginia’s offense finally found the big inning they had been searching for throughout the series. Anderson and Stephan began the inning with back-to-back singles before a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases. After a fielder’s choice to home, freshman outfielder Harrison Didawick drew an RBI walk to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the day. After a Pittsburgh pitching change, O’Ferrall drew a second-consecutive bases-loaded walk. O’Donnell capped off the inning with a 2-RBI single up the middle, plating Didawick and freshman infielder Luke Hanson and giving his squad a 5-1 lead.

The Panthers kept things close with two runs in both the seventh and eighth inning, but Virginia tacked on a key insurance run in the bottom of the seventh on graduate outfielder Chris Baker’s RBI base-hit and two more in the eighth on a Teel double in right center field.

Trailing 8-5 in the top of the ninth, Pittsburgh loaded the bases with just one out against sophomore reliever Jay Woolfolk. The right-hander didn’t flinch, however, putting away the final two Pittsburgh batters on a strikeout and a routine fly-out.

The weekend’s results are disappointing for a number of reasons, namely the untimely end of a 23-game home winning streak that was good for best in the nation and in Virginia program history. After a scalding-hot start, the Cavaliers have lost two of their last three conference series, with each series loss coming to an opponent without Virginia’s College World Series aspirations. Four conference series remain, as the Cavaliers attempt to stop a midseason lull and power their way to the postseason. 

Virginia will try to take some momentum from Sunday’s win on their four-game road trip this week. The Cavaliers head to Richmond Tuesday to take on VCU before traveling to Notre Dame for a three-game series against the Fighting Irish over the weekend.

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