Cameron Simmons had never hit ninth in the batting order in his career before, but the Virginia freshman appears to be finding a groove in the role now. Simmons helped the bottom of the batting order crank out six hits and keep the pressure on William & Mary in UVA’s 17-4 NCAA Tournament victory Friday.
Simmons finished 3 for 4 and reached base in all five at-bats thanks to a walk and an error in his first NCAA Tournament game in college.
“We were able to get some pitches to hit and a lot of guys put good swings on the ball,” Simmons said. “We were able to barrel some balls up and they fell in so it was a good day at the plate.”
Good may be an understated adjective in this case. The Cavaliers ripped off 20 hits against the Tribe to set a new program record in the NCAA Tournament. They also scored in every inning except the first (they didn’t bat in the ninth obviously) and the 17 runs are the second most for UVA in an NCAA Tournament game.
The bottom of the order – Charlie Cody, Jack Gerstenmaier, and Simmons – played a big role in the hit parade. That trio combined for six hits, three walks, six RBI, and four runs scored. The starting seven-eight-nine hitters combined to go 6-11, a sizzling .545 day at the plate.
The six hits tied for the third best day of the season for players in those spots in the order. The bottom of the order (Simmons, Andy Weber, and Justin Novak) smashed JMU in a 15-6 win on March 22 with nine hits (9-14/.642), six runs, and six RBI. In an 18-1 victory against VMI on Feb. 23, the seven-eight-nine hitters (Cody/Simmons, Doak Dozier, Weber/Gerstenmaier) posted eight hits (8-14/.571), six runs, and three RBI. The bottom of the order had six hits one other time and five hits six more times this season.
“Coach O’Connor before the game came up to us and told us to be aggressive,” Gerstenmaier said. “I think that was everyone’s approach to go there and be aggressive and put good swings on it.”
For all three players at the bottom of the order, Friday’s game represented the first significant NCAA Tournament action in their Cavalier careers to date. Cody, a sophomore, played in 23 games as a freshman but did not see time in the NCAA Tournament. Gerstenmaier, also a sophomore, played in only 12 games as a freshman, though he did have a pair of hits in the NCAA Tournament last season – he hit a single in his first appearance against USC and then added an RBI single as a ninth inning pinch hitter against Vanderbilt in Game 1 of the College World Series Finals. Simmons is a true freshman.
UVA coach Brian O’Connor said that he hopes the program’s tradition of success helps younger players develop and thrive when the NCAA Tournament arrives on the calendar. He also added that playing 30 games against high level national competition within the ACC helps prepare players for the quality of tournament teams.
“I hope that the program has something to do with it, because certainly there is a level of expectation in this program for performing in the clutch and winning, and doing it when it matters,” O’Connor said. “Players like Jack, Cam, and Charlie have great examples hitting in front of them and hopefully the culture that has been built in our program over the years certainly impacts those guys and gets them ready to play.”
They looked ready Friday. Against William, Cody had two RBI and scored a run. Gerstenmaier was one of two Hoos to launch a home run as he and Ernie Clement each hit their first of the season in the win. He set a new career high with three RBI.
Simmons, meanwhile, was one of three players to post three hits on the day, joining Adam Haseley and Novak in that category. Simmons went 3-4 with two runs, one RBI, one walk, and he reached base on the only Tribe error of the day. In UVA’s 16-8 win against W&M on March 1, he had gone 0-3 so the tournament performance was a reversal of fortunes in that regard.
It was the fourth time this season that Simmons had three hits. In what is perhaps a sign of a freshman settling in with what was an unfamiliar role as the nine-hole hitter, all of those have come in the 15 games since April 26. Simmons finished 3-5 in an 8-4 win against ODU on April 26. He went 3-4 in a 9-4 win against Georgia Tech on May 14. He was 3-4 again in an 8-3 win against Virginia Tech on May 19. With another 3-4 day Friday against the Tribe, Simmons has gone 21-57 for a solid .368 average in that 15-game span. On the season (42 starts in 48 appearances), he’s 42-157 for a .268 average. That means half of his hits have come in this recent stretch and he has as many hits in his last 57 at-bats as he had in his first 100.
Simmons said not much surprised him about the leap to college baseball because he expected it to be step up from high school, but “making adjustments as a hitter and being able to recognize pitches” took some time as a freshman. He said all of the coaches have helped him make progress in that regard.
“I’d never batted in the nine hole, but I’m embracing the role,” Simmons said. “I’m fine with it. Whatever the team needs and you get more pitches to hit down there. Turning the lineup over, I’m just trying to do my job. … I try not to treat it any differently – just stick to my approach and try to put good swings on pitches to hit and not try to do too much.”