A potent offense and good defense have carried the Virginia baseball team for most of this season. The Cavaliers didn’t get enough of either Sunday night.
Playing in the winner’s bracket of the Forth Worth Regional of the NCAA Tournament, UVA produced 1 run and committed 2 errors during a critical third inning breakdown. That proved too much to overcome against host Texas Christian, the No. 6 national seed in the tourney, and the Hoos fell 5-1 in a late night game at Lupton Stadium.
Virginia cranked out 7.9 runs per game over 57 games, good enough for ninth nationally, but the lineup couldn’t create much momentum Sunday. TCU starting pitcher Jared Janczak had a lot to do with that as he cruised through most of 8 innings pitched. Janczak allowed 1 earned run and 6 hits to go with 6 strikeouts and only 1 walk. He improved to 9-0 on the season as a result.
The Cavaliers finally got a run on the board in the eighth inning. Nate Eikhoff entered as a pinch hitter and blasted a leadoff double. He came around to score thanks to a darting single up the middle from Andy Weber, who went 2 for 3 in the game. The Horned Frogs erased any further threat, however, with a double play and a quick third out.
UVA did get two runners aboard in the ninth inning to create a little bit of potential drama, but that ended quickly at the hands of closer Durbin Feltman.
“Certainly, TCU’s starter was tremendous,” Cavalier coach Brian O’Connor said. “He was tough to get consistent quality passes against him. He just mixes and matches his pitches so well. He’s a great college pitcher, he really is. I give him a lot of credit. … He just went out there and took control of the game from the start.”
With Janczak efficiently holding down the offense, UVA needed a quality start and solid defense to keep pace. Starting pitcher Daniel Lynch had trouble putting away the Horned Frog hitters, though. They came through with some clutch two-strike hits early in the game and got on the board quickly. Lynch lasted just 2.2 innings as a result. He gave up 5 hits and 2 earned runs with 2 strikeouts.
Lynch didn’t get some much needed help from his defense either. The Cavaliers committed 2 errors in the third inning that helped chase Lynch from the mound. TCU scored 3 runs in that inning to build a 4-0 lead that lasted into the eighth. Ryan Merrill and Austen Wade kicked things off in that frame with back-to-back singles while facing two strikes.
Zach Humphreys hit a grounder to shortstop Ernie Clement, who flipped the ball to Weber for what should have been a fielder’s choice out. Instead, not only did Merrill score on the play, everyone was safe when Weber mishandled the ball for the first error of the inning. Evan Skoug followed up with an RBI double and then scored with two outs when Clement misfired on what looked like a groundball out off the bat of Nolan Brown.
For a team that entered the game with a .975 field percentage that ranked 57th nationally, those miscues were pivotal on a night where Janczak was dealing for the Horned Frogs.
The struggles for Lynch and the defense in those early innings proved to be costly in another way too. The Cavaliers used up a valuable arm for the rest of the regional in extended relief as a result.
Alec Bettinger stepped in for 5.1 innings where he allowed only 1 run and 1 hit to keep the Hoos within striking distance on the scoreboard. He retired the first 13 batters he faced and then toughed it out late when he escaped a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning. Overall, Bettinger threw 99 pitches in relief and tallied 4 strikeouts and 3 walks.
That leaves Virginia in a tight spot when it comes to pitching options. Now in the loser’s bracket, the Hoos must defeat Dallas Baptist to stay alive in the regional. If they pull that off, they’ll need to take down TCU twice to advance to the Super Regional play. UVA already used starters Derek Casey and Lynch, who could maybe come back for a short stint since he threw 58 pitches in his start Sunday. Plus, two other weekend starters Adam Haseley and Noah Murdock are likely unavailable due to injuries.
Essentially, that means the top five options as starting pitchers are not available with the team needing three wins to advance. Evan Sperling started 9 times during the season, but struggled late in the year. Chesdin Harrington got 2 starts during the season and Bobby Nicholson made his only start in the home finale against Richmond.
O’Connor did not name a starter for the next game, a 3 p.m. ET elimination game with Dallas Baptist on Monday.