The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Virginia baseball flips script, pitches its way to Super Regional

The Cavaliers put pitching struggles to bed last weekend, shutting down their regional opponents

<p>Hungate tossed 3.1 scoreless innings Friday in Virginia's narrow 4-2 win against Pennsylvania.</p>

Hungate tossed 3.1 scoreless innings Friday in Virginia's narrow 4-2 win against Pennsylvania.

Virginia baseball punched its ticket to the NCAA Super Regional Sunday, and the Cavaliers did it in an unexpected way. They were carried to three consecutive wins in the Charlottesville Regional by their pitching — the side of the ball that has let Virginia down during many of its low points in 2024. Each of the Cavaliers’ three starters produced quality outings, and the bullpen was even more impressive when called upon, both of which were especially important during an uncharacteristically quiet three-game stretch from Coach Brian O’Connor’s offense at the plate.

Virginia has one of the country’s most prolific offenses — a unit that ranks second nationally in batting average, third in hits and fifth in runs — but a pitching staff that left much to be desired throughout the regular season. The team’s arms had allowed double-digit runs in 13 of its 56 games before the regional, holding an earned run average well north of five after back-to-back seasons with an ERA below four. 

In fact, the Cavaliers’ final game before the regional was a microcosm of their 2024 struggles. A 12-7 defeat to Florida State knocked Virginia out of the ACC Tournament in pool play, as its pitchers allowed a lofty 16 hits to the Seminoles. They hung around for much of the game and were down just two runs heading into the seventh inning, but a seven-run Florida State explosion put the game well out of reach — even after the Cavaliers’ potent offense responded with five runs in the bottom half of the inning.

Virginia fans may have been expecting a game-breaking inning like that one to occur throughout the regional last weekend, but it never came. Graduate right-handed pitcher Joe Savino and junior right-handed pitcher Chase Hungate shut down Pennsylvania Friday, holding the Quakers to just two runs in a game where the Cavalier offense struggled to get going — a Virginia lineup that averages over 12 hits per game mustered only six against Pennsylvania. O’Connor noted the importance of Savino’s outing on a day when his team’s bats were not their brightest.

“[Savino] gutted it out and got us through that first part of the game,” O’Connor said.

The next day, sophomore left-handed pitcher Evan Blanco and freshman right-handed pitcher Matt Augustin carried the Cavaliers to a gritty 5-4 win against Mississippi State. Virginia’s offense stuttered again, plating only two runs in the first six innings of the game, but the hosts only trailed by two runs heading for the seventh thanks to a solid outing from Blanco. The sophomore gave way to Augustin with one out in the seventh frame, and the freshman never looked back, tossing 2.2 shutout innings. A two-run single by freshman infielder Eric Becker tied the game in the seventh, and graduate outfielder Bobby Whalen’s walk-off ground ball in the ninth sent the Cavaliers to the regional final.

For the second time in as many days, O’Connor glowed behind the microphone when discussing the performance of his pitchers.

“[Blanco] hung in there and pitched us to the back part of the game to give the ball to Matt Augustin,” O’Connor said. “For a true freshman to go out there in that environment and that situation with what was at stake was incredibly impressive.”

In the same press conference, Becker emphasized that the offense’s late heroics would not have been possible without the nine innings of work provided by Blanco and Augustin.

“In the beginning of the game we started off kinda slow, and our pitching — Evan and Matt — they were able to keep us in that game,” Becker said.

Yet again Sunday, pitching was the whole story. Junior right-handed pitcher Jay Woolfolk received the ball for Virginia’s rematch with the Bulldogs, having started in just four of his 21 previous appearances in 2024. After allowing a two-run home run to sophomore outfielder Dakota Jordan in the first inning, Woolfolk pitched seven consecutive scoreless frames in a dominant outing that earned him an honor as the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. The Cavaliers needed every one of those innings, as the Virginia lineup could only muster three runs on six hits while Woolfolk was on the mound.

The junior’s efforts had the Cavaliers leading 3-2 heading into the final frame, where Virginia’s ensuing six-run outburst put the game to bed and advanced the team to the Super Regional. While a 9-2 final score could tell a deceiving story about a hot offensive day for the Cavaliers, the fans inside Disharoon Park knew how vital Woolfolk’s performance was. If the Bulldogs had gotten to the right-hander and plated a couple more runs earlier in the game, Virginia would have entered the ninth trailing with huge pressure to deliver. Instead, thanks to Woolfolk, they held the lead and were given the license to play a worry-free top half of the inning.

Graduate catcher Jacob Ference elaborated on the performance of the Cavaliers’ pitchers throughout the weekend, explaining the weight it lifted from Virginia’s lineup. 

“From an offensive standpoint, it’s huge,” Ference said. “The guy on the mound is gonna shut it down and give us zeroes after we score. It gives us a lot of confidence as hitters to go out there and support them. They’re doing everything they can to give us some zeroes, keep us in the game — it allows us to do our job.”

In total, the Cavaliers surrendered just eight runs on 23 hits and a mere five walks across 27 innings of work. Amid a tough stretch for many Virginia hitters — junior infielder Griff O’Ferrall, freshman infielder Henry Ford and junior outfielder Casey Saucke went a combined 7-38 at the plate in the regional — that kind of delivery on the mound was necessary. O’Connor’s final comment of the weekend summed up the Cavaliers’ regional perfectly. 

“A lot has been made about our offense, and rightfully so — it’s one of the top offenses in the country,” O’Connor said. “But this weekend … we were led by our pitching and defense. This time of year, you’re gonna face great arms in the other dugout, so you gotta pitch great. It excites me for what we can potentially do going forward.”

As the Cavaliers prepare to host a Super Regional against Kansas State, they will once again look to their pitching. The Wildcats posted 33 runs in three games at the Fayetteville Regional, presenting Virginia’s staff with yet another challenge. With Blanco and Savino looking steady, Woolfolk building momentum as a third starter and numerous bullpen arms presenting themselves as reliable, the Cavaliers are in great position to continue their charge through the postseason.


Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.