Logan Michaels called his shot. Well, not exactly. The Virginia catcher hoped for a home run shot and when the magical moment happened Sunday, it was hard to stop the Hoos or the emotions.
The Cavaliers topped Tennessee on Sunday, 6-0, and while it was a big day overall for Michaels, nothing really compared to his solo home run in the third inning that gave UVA lead it never relinquished. With his father celebrating in the stands with his whole family after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Michaels’ shot painted a long-lasting picture on Father’s Day.
“There’s no words for it” Michaels said. “For someone to bring him the home run ball and then obviously for it to happen on Father’s Day at the College World Series, I mean definitely a special moment for our family and for my dad and I.”
Indeed, the storybook tale finished with a fellow fan bringing Jeff Michaels the home run ball in his seats near Virginia’s dugout. That’s a moment the TV cameras caught on the ESPN broadcast when his dad sat down and gathered his emotions. The son had done the same an inning earlier when his second RBI of the day added to the lead and he scored a run too.
It was an unlikely sequence on an unlikely stage even beyond Jeff Michaels’ battle with cancer. Prior to his first career at-bat at the College World Series, Logan Michaels had connected on only one home run in his UVA career. That came against William & Mary in a mid-week game back on Feb. 25, 2020. That’s a single home run in 341 career at-bats.
Yet, Michaels had hopefully – playfully, perhaps – called for his home run shot Saturday at lunch. That it actually happened? As Michaels said, that’s hard to put into words.
“I mean, I knew I could do it. I’ve done it many times in practice,” Michaels said smiling. “It’s actually funny. [Saturday], a few of us were at lunch and a group of guys with a podcast came and sat down with us and were asking us questions. They asked me if I’m going to hit a home run. I said I’d like to say yes. The guy asked me how many home runs I’ve had all year and I said none. It’s just kind of funny, they asked me the question and then it happened.”
Given that Michaels hadn’t exactly launched a lot of home runs in a Virginia uniform and that his swing, per his father, isn’t really a typical home run swing, when it left the yard Sunday, the Cavaliers couldn’t contain their excitement.
“I couldn’t believe it,” O’Connor said with a broad grin. “His swing is not for that. But the ball was up a little bit, he put a good swing on it. I’ve seen him hit a few balls out of the ballpark in BP, but just so excited for him. … When it finally left the ballpark, I just couldn’t believe it. I was just so happy for him.”
The home run stole the show, but Michaels put together a big performance overall. He finished 3-4 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored. Before Sunday’s CWS game, he had posted only three multi-RBI games all season. He also played a key role behind the plate, settling down Andrew Abbott early after a shaky first inning and keeping the momentum going with Matt Wyatt in relief.
The senior catcher is the latest Hoo to emerge with a clutch outing this postseason. The Cavaliers have enjoyed several big performances on the mound in the NCAA Tournament, Devin Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the regional round, and Kyle Teel sent a Grand Slam over the wall in the Super Regional to name a few. This time around, it was Zack Gelof with a 3-hit day to match Michaels in that category, some sensational defensive plays in the middle infield from Nic Kent and Max Cotier, and, of course, Michaels’ magic moment too.
“Everybody’s a leader on this team, you can look right and left, everybody can lead,” Michaels said. “Everybody steps up in big moments. I think that’s why we’re playing so well. I mean every team here is really good and really talented so it’s going to take guys on a team to step up and be leaders. … I think that’s a really good characteristic to have with this team. Everybody’s stepped up in a big way at some point in the season.”
UVA starting pitcher Andrew Abbott completed six scoreless innings Sunday, but it required a higher pitch count and working out of trouble to keep a zero on the board. That meant O’Connor needed to turn to his bullpen to finish the game and he called on Matt Wyatt in the seventh inning.
Wyatt was up to the task. He took care of the final three frames and claimed his first career save in the process. The sophomore righty allowed only 1 hit with 3 strikeouts.
That’s par for the course lately with Wyatt. He has put together a 10-game string of strong pitching for the Cavaliers. Starting with the Clemson game on April 9, Wyatt has gone multiple innings in 8 of 10 appearances and posted multiple strikeouts in 8 of 10 too. Against Clemson and Louisville on the front end, he logged 2 innings of work with 2 strikeouts in each game. He followed that with 3.1 innings against Liberty and 3 innings against Virginia Tech, logging 6 strikeouts in both.
Wyatt re-emerged from the exam break with two limited outings, but then has turned it on in the postseason. He threw 2 innings with 5 strikeouts against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. He started the elimination game against South Carolina in the regional and went 5 inning with 8 strikeouts. Against Dallas Baptist in the Super Regional in Columbia, he came on in relief for a season-long 5.2 inning outing with 8 strikeouts again.
Sunday’s 3 innings with 3 strikeouts kept it going as the Hoos stayed in the winner’s bracket of pool play.
“Matt did a terrific job,” O’Connor said. “[He’s] been throwing some really great baseball for us and can be overpowering at times. I’ve been excited about the depth of this pitching staff. The high-quality depth of it. I feel like we have some really elite arms so to only have to use two of them [in the opening game] certainly excites me.”
The players on this year’s Virginia roster had never played in the College World Series, but this isn’t the coaching staff’s first rodeo for the most part. O’Connor, Kevin McMullan, and Matt Kirby all have been to the CWS more than once.
That experienced translated to the players Abbott said. After losing the first game in the program’s first appearance in 2009, O’Connor has led the Hoos to win the opening game in Omaha in each of the next four trips in 2011, 2014, 2015, and 2021. The Cavaliers appeared to be poised throughout the game with Tennessee Sunday.
“They had talked about what to expect,” Abbott said. “They wanted us to come watch the Vandy game [Saturday] night to just get a sense of the crowd. [They told us] the ebbs and flows of the games here, the crowd reactions, and all of that is going to weigh in on you guys and not try to play with just emotion, trust in our game and play the way we have the last few weeks. To have three coaches that have been here multiple times, that can only help you. They know what to expect, they’ve been to the finals, they’ve been the runner-up, they’ve won the thing so just having them telling us what to expect and how to handle ourselves and what we need to do at certain times can only help.”