Virginia finally ran out of NCAA Tournament magic.
One year after winning the National Championship with seven come-from-behind wins, including one in the decisive game three of the title series against Vanderbilt, and seven victories of two runs or less in the NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers couldn’t craft a similar postseason story this season. Saturday night, East Carolina – the eventual region winner – reaped the rewards of a dramatic 8-6 victory with a walk-off home run. Sunday afternoon, William & Mary sent a rocket over the same outfield wall in the seventh inning to prevail 5-4.
The Tribe had won six straight postseaon elimination games in their conference tournament and the regional before the Pirates ended the dream Sunday evening. ECU, meanwhile, used Saturday’s fireworks to propel the program to its first Super Regional in seven years.
UVA experienced that sort of magical ride last June, but got beat by two clubs with similar serendipity going this year.
”They needed to walk off this field with their chins up and proud of what’s on the front of their jersey,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. ”They work every day and sacrifice every day for the good of their teammates and the good of this program. They are very, very committed and very unselfish. So when you have the success like we have in this program, you have to step back and understand sometimes you’ve got to take the bad with the good. It stings. Nobody likes losing. You feel like you can continue to play forever, but we’ve had a lot of success in this program and we’re very proud of that and I’m very proud of this team.”
The Cavaliers had their chances Sunday. They left two men stranded in the opening inning after drawing two walks. They also had runners on base in every inning from the fourth through the ninth innings, but could not crack the scoring column often enough. In total, Virginia left 12 men on base, including seven in the final three innings. Adam Haseley struck out looking with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Justin Novak flied out to left field on his first pitch in the eighth. Charlie Cody hit a groundball to third base for the final out on a fielder’s choice in the ninth.
Overall, UVA produced 12 hits with Daniel Pinero and Jack Gerstenmaier leading the way with three each as part of 3-4 days. Still, not enough of those came in those critical moments with players in position to score. The Hoos’ biggest inning in that regard was the fourth when Pavin Smith, Pinero, and Haseley linked double-double-single together to produce two runs. Gerstenmaier added a two-out RBI for the third run of the inning that tied the score at the time 3-3, but timely hitting eluded the team the rest of the day. The only other run came on a solo homer by Pinero in the sixth that gave the Wahoos their only brief lead of the day – W&M tied it in the bottom half of the inning and took the lead with a home run of its own in the seventh.
“I know we scored 17 runs against them in the first game [of the regional],” Pinero said in reference to Friday’s 17-4 victory against the Tribe. “With our offense, I think that we definitely could have put a lot more runs up today, but like I said we battled and we swung it well but we didn’t come up with the win.”
UVA needed some of its postseason perseverance thanks to a three-run second inning by William & Mary that produced a 3-0 lead. The Tribe manufactured those runs with two bunt singles in the inning, a hard-hit double, a single up the middle, and a sac fly. The single started the inning, the two bunt singles sandwiched the double next, and the sac fly wrapped up the scoring.
All three of those runs belonged to freshman pitcher Daniel Lynch, who the Cavaliers sent to the mound as a starter for the first time since April 13. He had thrown just 2.1 innings since that game and his outing Sunday was shorter than that as he lasted just 1.2 innings before the Tribe broke through for those three runs. O’Connor and his coaching staff believed holding Adam Haseley for a possible elimination game later Sunday against ECU gave the team the best chance to win the regional and not just the morning game and Lynch’s short sting didn’t change that thinking after the fact.
“No regrets,” O’Connor said. “I love Adam, certainly Adam had a terrific year for us on the mound and obviously offensively too, but as I sat here late last night and thought about it as the decision maker of the program I felt it was important to put our team in the best position to win the entire tournament.”
Lynch gave way to Tommy Doyle, who had a rough 24 hours after settling in as Virginia’s closer midway through the ACC season. After starting earlier in the year, Doyle had gone 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA in 13 games out of the bullpen with batters hitting .153 against him. In his last seven relief appearances before Saturday and Sunday, he went 9.2 innings and allowed just one earned run. In fact, through the eighth inning of Saturday’s game with East Carolina, Doyle had gone 10.2 innings with a 0.88 ERA.
The Pirates launched the walk-off home run Saturday night, but UVA turned back to Doyle in relief of Lynch. He delivered 4.1 innings and allowed two runs on three hits. Those three hits came after the Hoos took the 4-3 lead on Pinero’s home run in the sixth. The Tribe opened the sixth with a single-double combination to tie the game at 4-4. In the seventh, Charles Ameer connected on a laser shot homer that was the decisive run and that led to Kevin Doherty finishing the game in relief for the Cavaliers. He didn’t allow a run in two innings of work.
“Going out into the seventh inning I was ready to go,” Doyle said. “I told [Karl] Kuhn I’d get the first batter, I missed a pitch and they capitalized on it so I can’t look back.”
Neither can the Hoos.
“I’d like to congratulate William & Mary,” O’Connor said. “They played a heck of a game certainly, it was a really good ballgame. We had our opportunities and we couldn’t capitalize, but I thought our guys really battled and showed up ready to play. …They deserve to win and they were better than us today and unfortunately this ends our season. We have to handle that as men, as players and coaches. I feel for the guys that won’t have a chance to wear this uniform again because I know how much it means to them and I know how much they’ve poured into it but I congratulate William & Mary, they did a nice job.”