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No. 14 Virginia baseball overpowers No. 7 Wake Forest in series victory

In a high-powered ACC clash, the Cavaliers rallied to win the weekend 2-1

After a disappointing series loss to open ACC play against unranked Miami last weekend, No. 14 Virginia baseball bounced back to win two out of three games against No. 7 Wake Forest at Disharoon Park this weekend. The Cavaliers (16-4, 3-3 ACC) took the series opener and walked off their third match over the Demon Deacons (13-6, 2-4 ACC), though they dropped Saturday’s contest 9-3. Despite the net positive outcome, Virginia yielded 29 runs to Wake Forest — proof of both a highly resilient offense and pitchers still seeking answers on the mound. 

Game 1 — Virginia 16, Wake Forest 10

The Cavaliers gave the nod to sophomore right-handed pitcher Cullen McKay to open the series following an extended rain delay Friday afternoon. After a quiet first inning for both teams, Wake Forest jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the second by way of a bases-loaded walk and subsequent grand slam from graduate infielder Adam Tellier. Undeterred, Virginia rallied in the bottom of the second, batting around to record seven runs. Graduate catcher Jacob Ference opened up scoring for the Cavaliers with one of two RBI doubles in the inning, which only concluded after they grabbed a 7-5 lead.

McKay put two runners on base before an early exit in the top of the third, and graduate left-handed pitcher Angelo Tonas could not escape the jam. Tonas relented the lead, allowing an RBI single, hitting a batter and yielding an RBI double against his first three batters to put the Demon Deacons back on top before retiring the side. Tonas allowed another run in the top of the fourth off an RBI fielder’s choice, giving Wake Forest a 9-7 advantage.

Virginia’s offense stalled midgame, though the bullpen was able to stitch together a clean fifth inning. In the top of the sixth, facing a bases-loaded jam, junior left-handed pitcher Dean Kampschror lost his handle on a wild pitch to extend the Demon Deacons’ lead to 10-7.

The Cavaliers found a second wind in an explosive bottom of the sixth inning, plating eight total runs — all with two outs — to retake the lead yet again. Though they were able to easily fill the bases, Virginia still benefited from a few Wake Forest miscues — a hit batter, a dropped fly ball and a walk brought four runs around — before junior infielder Griff O’Ferrall and graduate outfielder Bobby Whalen knocked in four more runs with a pair of RBI singles to bring the score to 15-10. 

In the final three innings, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jack O’Connor assumed a relief role out of the bullpen — a change after mixed results as a starter this season. O’Connor breezed through the Demon Deacons’ lineup, collecting four strikeouts across three scoreless frames. Ference added a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the eighth, capping off a sporadic 16-10 opening victory for Virginia.

Game 2 — Virginia 3, Wake Forest 9

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Evan Blanco started Virginia out in Saturday’s contest, immediately yielding an unearned run in the top of the first inning due to a defensive error from the Cavaliers. Virginia struck back in the bottom of the second, however, when sophomore infielder Henry Godbout launched a solo home run to left field, evening the score at one run apiece.

Blanco showed poise in the second and third innings, but Wake Forest began to pull away with an RBI triple in the top of the fourth and a two-run shot in the top of the fifth. Blanco was removed from the game after the fifth and replaced by junior reliever Chase Hungate as the Cavaliers trailed 4-1. 

Meanwhile, junior right-handed pitcher Chase Burns was masterful for the Demon Deacons, stifling Virginia’s hot bats. Burns went 7.0 innings, racking up 13 strikeouts against just two hits and two walks. Barring Godbout’s first-inning blast, the lineup that scored 16 a night prior was simply outclassed by Burns’ quality arm.

With a final score of 9-3, the Cavaliers were unable to rally against Burns. A stagnant Cavalier offense showed a pulse with a two-run pinch-hit home run from freshman infielder Antonio Perrotta though — his first of his college career. However, the response was too little and too late as the series was knotted at one win each.

Game 3 — Virginia 11, Wake Forest 10

Junior right-handed pitcher Jay Woolfolk received the ball for Sunday’s deciding contest. Yet again, though, Virginia had to work from a deficit as the Demon Deacons launched a two-run shot to left field in the top of the first. Freshman infielder Henry Ford snared an RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the first, making the score 2-1.

While both teams saw traffic on the basepaths in the second inning, a three-run bottom of the third put Virginia ahead. Godbout knocked an RBI single to center field, and Ference plated Godbout and himself with a two-run blast to left field in the next at-bat to go up 4-2. Fittingly, Wake Forest brought three runs home in the top of the fourth with home runs off of Woolfolk and junior left-handed pitcher Blake Barker, regaining a slim 5-4 advantage.

The Cavaliers tied the game up in the bottom of the fifth when Godbout came around to score on a defensive miscue for the Demon Deacons. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Aidan Teel was brought in for the sixth inning and continued to face struggles carrying over from his previous outings at Miami. Control issues compounded for Teel — after walking two batters, he relented three consecutive RBI hits with two outs as Wake Forest pulled back ahead 9-5.

Graduate left-handed pitcher Owen Coady allowed another run off of a wild pitch in the top of the seventh as Virginia’s hopes for a series victory seemingly slipped away. However, true to their form, the Cavaliers’ offense rallied to save the day. Ference again launched a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh before sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick delivered a key three-run blast in the bottom of the eighth to bring Virginia back within one run. In the bottom of the ninth, down to the team’s last strike, junior outfielder Casey Saucke heroically delivered a solo shot to right field to tie the game and ensure extra innings.

The Cavaliers were again the beneficiaries of Wake Forest’s shaky defense. Didawick walked to begin the inning and was moved to second base off of a patented sacrifice bunt by Godbout. Didawick then advanced to third on a dropped fly from Ference. Junior infielder Ethan Anderson stepped in to deliver the winning hit with a sharp grounder to the pitcher. As the ball was fielded too slowly, Didawick dove across the plate to secure a walk-off series victory for the Cavaliers.

“We’ve shown in this short season so far … that our offensive club just doesn’t quit.” Coach Brian O’Connor said following Sunday’s win. “In close to half of our games we’ve come from behind, and in most of them found a way to win … It’s incredibly impressive.” 

The series delivered on its promise as a clash of two ACC powerhouses, with tons of firepower shown at the plate. For Virginia, the standout was Ference — who now sports a .474 batting average on the season. He rose to the moment with three home runs against the team’s stiffest competition yet. 

On the other hand, the necessity of the offense to come from behind so frequently is a concern. The Cavaliers’ rotation and bullpen are in flux, searching for answers and marked by inconsistency. Virginia rarely had the opportunity to play ahead and was bailed out by errors in both wins this weekend. Up next, the Cavaliers have another conference series this weekend at Pittsburgh All games will be broadcast on ACCNX, with the first pitch slated for 3 p.m. Friday.

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