Missed spots and missed opportunities.
In what turned out to be the final game of its season, that adequately sums up the Virginia baseball team’s day against Dallas Baptist on Monday. The Cavaliers started the day with two forgettable innings that featured missed pitches and missed outs with fielding errors, while they also left runners in scoring position in seven of the nine innings. That resulted in an 11-8 loss that eliminated the Hoos from the Forth Worth Regional despite a fierce rally in their final at-bat.
”Certainly we’re very, very disappointed that the end of the season is here,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor said. “These [players] fought all year long. I’m most disappointed, certainly, for the seniors and other players that will not be wearing our uniforms again. There’s certainly some players that have had very, very accomplished careers in our uniform that won’t be with us next year.”
The Cavaliers dug a 9-1 hole in the first two innings due to some miscues. In the first inning, starting pitcher Evan Sperling struggled mightily to get the ball in the strike zone. He opened with a walk, hit the next two batters, and then issued another walk on a fullcount to tie the score at 1-1 since the Hoos scored in the first as well.
Those would be the only four batters Sperling faced, though he still took the loss to fall to 3-3 on the season. The Hoos called Grant Donahue in from the bullpen to try to turn the tide. The first batter he faced, Tim Millard, fouled off two pitches on a fullcount but then laced a single to center field to score two runs. The Patriots never surrendered their lead from there, but the inning was far from over.
Donahue got the inning’s first out, but Cameron Simmons’ diving attempt on a line drive just missed and DBU scored again. The Cavs issued an intentional walk to set up a potential double play ball, but then Donahue walked the next batter as well to plate another run. That led to Bennett Sousa taking over on the mound and the Hoos got out of the inning in a 5-1 hole.
That deficit could have been erased, but the next inning didn’t go much better for the Hoos. The Patriots singled and homered to open the inning with two runs, but they doubled the damage when UVA gave up another walk and then committed two fielding errors. Pavin Smith threw the ball in the dirt trying for a force out at second base and Nate Eikhoff had a fielding error at third base moments later.
Dallas Baptist left that inning with the 9-1 lead and Virginia spent the rest of the game in catch-up mode.
“This game quite simply came down to the first couple of innings,” O’Connor said. “Sometimes the game is as simple if you don’t throw strikes and handle the baseball then you’re not going to win.”
The Cavaliers created chances for a comeback but they couldn’t come through with the necessary hits to capitalize. Even though they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, an opportunity for more runs vanished with a leaping catch by shortstop Camden Duzenackto strand two runners.
The theme of runners left in scoring position carried through to other innings. UVA scored a run in the third inning, but had Adam Haseley in scoring position when the inning ended. The Hoos loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning, but got only one run when Haseley grounded into a double play and then Smith struck out. They rinsed and repeated that pattern in the sixth, seventh, and eighth with different details, but the same result: a runner in scoring position but nothing to show for it.
”I’m not going to blame it on any particular thing, I just think the other teams played better than we did this weekend,” Smith said. ”That happens in baseball sometimes.”
The Wahoos finally broke through in the ninth inning when they trailed 11-3 coming out of a weather delay. With one out on the board, they strung together a double (Weber), single (Clement), single (McCarthy), double (Haseley), and home run (Smith) stretch that produced five runs. That cut the deficit to 11-8, the closest it had been since the first inning ended. Robbie Coman followed with a single and Simmons walked to bring the tying run to the plate with only one out still showing.
The game ended, however, with a strikeout-groundout combination. That also brought to a close the season as the Cavaliers finished with 40+ wins for the 11th time in the past 14 years. O’Connor said he was disappointed for the team and especially the players that have wrapped up their careers at UVA.
”They’ve won a lot of games and they’ve been tremendous players,” O’Connor said, ”but most importantly they’re great representatives of our program. They’re class young men that have done things the right way and have played hard and certainly have represented our University and our program the right way. … That’s how we’ve been able to over the years build a really, really strong tradition. They learn from the older players and they continue to pass it along to the next guys.”