For the fourth straight game this postseason, the Virginia baseball team fell behind in the first two innings. Unlike the NCAA Tournament opener on Friday, UVA could not create a comeback and fell to East Carolina, 4-2.
The Cavaliers, in fact, have lost three of the four postseason games after trailing quickly. In the ACC Tournament, Florida State scored a run in the first and won 13-3 while Notre Dame scored in the second and won 3-0. On Friday in the Greenville Regional, Coastal Carolina posted two in the second but the Hoos rallied to win 7-2. The issue actually caused problems in the final regular season series as well when Virginia trailed after the first inning in two games against Louisville and lost both.
Saturday’s setback sends UVA to the loser’s bracket for an elimination game with Coastal at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“I thought it was just overall a great college baseball game,” Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor said in a news release. “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a loser and we came out on the wrong end of it and that’s to credit East Carolina. They did a terrific job.”
Cavalier starting pitcher Brian Gursky gave his team a chance in the first half of the game. He went 5.2 innings as the starting pitcher for Virginia and allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 6 hits. Unfortunately for the Hoos, 2 runs came early and left them playing from behind yet again.
In the second inning, ECU put the leadoff runner on base when Jacob Jenkins-Cowart reached courtesy of an error. Cavalier shortstop Griff O’Ferrall made a throw that pulled Devin Ortiz off the bag in order to make the catch. Still, the Hoos had a chance to get out of that damage with a double play ball. It was hit to second baseman Justin Rubin but his throw was difficult for O’Ferrall to handle cleanly at the bag and they only got a fielder’s choice out. On the next pitch, the Pirates’ Josh Moylan launched a two-run homer well over the fence and UVA trailed the rest of the way.
Each time the Hoos attempted to rally, East Carolina made a play to keep them at bay.
In the top of the fifth, Chris Newell connected on a solo home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom half of that inning, Justin Wilcoxen answered a lead-off homer of his own and pushed the score up to 3-1. In the seventh, a walk by Kyle Teel, a double by Casey Saucke, and an RBI groundout by Ethan Anderson posted a run for Virginia. In the same inning, ECU scratched out a run to respond. Alec Makarewicz drew a leadoff walk from relief pitcher Brandon Neeck and took second on a passed ball. The Pirates got him home with a sac bunt and a sac fly to lead 4-2.
The Wahoos had chances to tie with runners on base in each of the last two innings as well. Alex Tappen reached on an error in the eighth, but Jake Gelof just missed with a long flyball out to end the threat. In the top of the ninth, Teel and Saucke got on base with back-to-back one-out singles and Anderson joined them after a walk. With the bases loaded, Newell and Max Cotier struck out swinging to end the game. In total, the Cavaliers left 7 runners on base.
O’Connor captured a lot of what unfolded with his words.
“We just couldn’t get a big hit. I think we probably left seven or eight runners on base,” O’Connor said. “I thought [Brian] Gursky after that two-run inning, I thought he settled down and did what he needed to do. You have a starter that goes out there and goes five-plus and gives up three runs in the NCAA Tournament, gives you a chance to win the game. And I thought he settled down and ate the game up for us and gave us a chance. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t do enough and that’s credit to their pitching and their defense. It was very, very good. And so we’ll have another opportunity [Sunday]. We’ve got to shake this one off and be ready to go.”
The next opportunity is a rematch of Friday’s Regional opener against Coastal Carolina. Each team hopes to get a win at 1 p.m. in order to survive and take on ECU at 6 p.m. To get a victory there – and in a Monday elimination game if necessary – will be a tall order in front of an energized home crowd that has seen East Carolina win 20 straight games.