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No. 13 Virginia baseball loses third consecutive ACC series, falls to third place in the Coastal Division

The Cavaliers lost two of three at home to the Blue Devils in a wild weekend series and are sliding down the conference standings

<p>Virginia has now lost its last three conference series, a drastic turnaround from its early season dominance.</p>

Virginia has now lost its last three conference series, a drastic turnaround from its early season dominance.

No. 21 Virginia hosted No. 10 Duke for its penultimate home series of 2023. The Cavaliers (35-11, 13-11 ACC) struggled with inconsistency — falling to the Blue Devils (31-13, 14-9 ACC) in an offensive firefight and a competitive finale. Virginia fell in games one and three, but managed to earn a dominant win in the second game.

Game 1 – Virginia 5, Duke 17

After a delayed start due to rainy conditions, the first pitch of the series was thrown at 9 p.m. While the late start affected both teams, the Cavaliers struggled to find their rhythm Friday evening, especially on the mound.

In the first inning, graduate student pitcher Brian Edgington earned two quick outs but then allowed a single and a wild pitch before graduate student first baseman MJ Metz blasted a two-run home run for Duke. After Edgington quickly ended the inning, the Cavaliers responded in the second inning with a solo home run of their own by sophomore utility player Ethan Anderson to reduce the Blue Devil lead to one run.

In the third inning, Edgington gave up four hits and a walk resulting in a 5-1 deficit. He once again got three quick outs in the fourth inning, but the Cavalier offense was unable to provide Edgington with much run support. With runners on first and second and just one out, Duke forced soft contact twice in a row to end Virginia’s rally.

The Blue Devils scored a combined 12 runs in the final three innings to take the opening game by storm. The Cavalier bullpen struggled, as sophomore reliever Chase Hungate gave up four runs in the seventh inning along with junior reliever Avery Mabe giving up four runs in the ninth inning.

Sophomore infielder Justin Rubin scored the final run of the night via his first home run of the season, but barring this and Anderson’s continued offensive ascent, it would otherwise be a forgettable outing for Virginia. Edgington took the loss, pitching six innings, yielding eight hits and six runs, walking one and striking out nine. 

Anderson was 3-5 with two runs scored and has raised his batting average to .398 after the series. He leads Cavalier starters in on-base percentage and added to his lengthy highlight reel this season despite the loss. 

Game 2 – Virginia 10, Duke 2

After falling flat in the opening game, the Cavaliers unleashed a smashing victory against Duke. Graduate student pitcher Nick Parker threw an outstanding 12 strikeouts in six innings, giving up just two runs on four hits. 

Parker struck out the side in the second inning, throwing just eight pitches in the process. He was locked in an intense pitcher’s duel with Duke starter Ryan Higgins — both carrying scoreless outings after three complete innings.

On a 2-2 count, Parker gave up a solo home run in the fourth before retiring three straight Blue Devils. Virginia’s counterattack began with a single by sophomore infielder Griff O’Ferrall, followed by a double from junior infielder Jake Gelof. A sacrifice RBI by junior catcher Kyle Teel tied the game, and the Cavaliers would continue to get on base.

Anderson drew a walk, and sophomore infielder Casey Saucke was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs, but sophomore infielder Anthony Stephan popped out to the shortstop. 

Parker would then restore momentum by striking out the side yet again. Freshman second baseman Henry Godbout was hit by a pitch to start the fifth inning, and an O’Ferrall single advanced him to third base. Junior outfielder Ethan O’Donnell reached on a fielder’s choice to score Godbout and take a one-run lead.

Parker’s final complete inning was tainted by his second solo home run surrendered in the game, but he rebounded by tossing two strikeouts to prevent further damage. Tied at two runs apiece, the heart of the Virginia lineup took control of the game.

Doubles by Anderson and Stephan put the Cavaliers up by one, and a Godbout walk followed by a single courtesy of freshman outfielder Harrison Didawick added an insurance run. A Duke wild pitch allowed Godbout to score, putting the Cavaliers up by three runs.

Parker exited to a standing ovation, earning his fourth win on 6.2 innings of two run, two hit pitching. Parker struck out 12, yielding just one walk. The Virginia bullpen did not allow another run in his wake. Freshman reliever Kevin Jaxel and junior reliever Jake Berry allowed just three Blue Devils to get on base across the final three innings. 

The Cavalier offense did not slow down in the seventh inning. O’Donnell singled and advanced to second off of a Duke balk, and a Teel single drove O’Donnell home. Hits by Anderson and Saucke added two more runs. Teel collected two more RBI in the eighth inning off of a double deep down the left field line to cap off a double-digit effort on offense — and a much-needed victory for Virginia.

Game 3 – Virginia 3, Duke 7

The Cavaliers suffered a painful defeat in the series finale, mustering just three runs despite earning nine hits — with both teams collecting just two extra base hits each. The Cavaliers can attribute the loss to a barrage of walks and singles — usually their own offensive formula for victory. Virginia batters only struck out six times but struggled to hit the ball into gaps or hit for hard contact.

After retiring the leadoff hitter on two pitches, freshman pitcher Jack O’Connor surrendered three consecutive walks. A Duke single, followed by a sacrifice fly and a double had Virginia in a 3-0 deficit after the first inning.

O’Connor rebounded after a rocky start by retiring the side, only for the Cavalier offense to hit into a double play. The third inning resembled the first, as O’Connor placed a fastball right down the middle of the plate on a 2-0 count that resulted in a Blue Devil solo home run. 

Godbout started to build momentum offensively with a perfectly placed bunt for an infield single, but sophomore utility player Colin Tuft was caught stealing to hinder Virginia’s comeback. 

Down four to nothing, Jaxel entered for his second appearance of the series — surrendering a walk and two singles that allowed Duke to add two more runs. In the bottom of the fourth inning, an O’Donnell walk followed by a Teel single gave Virginia its first run of the game. 

Freshman reliever Evan Blanco blanked the Blue Devils in the fifth inning, only for the Cavalier offense to hit into three straight ground outs. 

Gelof, one of the national leaders in RBI, remarkably picked up his 70th RBI of the season on a two-run home run to close the deficit to three runs. Unfortunately, only four Cavaliers would get on base for the remainder of the game after Gelof’s highlight play.

A third consecutive conference series loss has Virginia free falling down the ACC standings. Despite holding a tight grip on first place in the Coastal Division for most of the season, the Cavaliers now find themselves in third place behind Duke and the Miami Hurricanes.

Two wins and seven losses in the last nine ACC games is a sour reenactment of a similar losing streak Virginia suffered last season — a trend that ultimately proved fatal for its postseason hopes.

Virginia has an elite bullpen and talented starting rotation of pitchers, but has been prone to untimely meltdowns in close games, exacerbated by offensive droughts. If the Cavaliers want to return to the College World Series after falling short last season, the team will certainly need to return to its early season form, with the offense jumping out to early and sizeable leads taking pressure off the rotation and bullpen. 

Virginia finishes off its final homestand with six straight games, including a crucial series vs the Louisville Cardinals. First, the Cavaliers host two in-state opponents — VCU and James Madison University at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. All games will be broadcast on ACC Network.