The Virginia baseball team finally got off to a fast start this postseason, but couldn’t sustain the early momentum and made a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament instead. UVA built a 6-0 lead Sunday, but saw it evaporate in the final four innings and Coastal Carolina walked off with a 7-6 win that ousted the Hoos from the Greenville Regional.
The Cavaliers finished the season with a 39-19 record and a second straight tourney appearance, but their stay ended short of another run to Omaha.
“I’m just certainly disappointed for our guys, that said when we get a chance to go back and have reflect on the entire season, not just this moment, I know our guys will be very, very proud,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said in a news release. “I’m really proud that of this team and most importantly, proud of the young men who wear the uniform and how they represent our program and how they are as people.”
For the first half of Sunday’s elimination game, it looked like UVA might be finding the magic that led to a College World Series run out of the Regional loser’s bracket last season.
The Cavaliers scored immediately with a run in the top of the first inning and added to it with two runs in the third. In the opening frame, Kyle Teel posted a one-out double and advance to third on a wild pitch. Alex Tappen brought him home with an RBI single and UVA led 1-0 after one. In the third inning, Tappen clicked off another single to set the stage for Jake Gelof. The sophomore sent a 2-run home run over the wall for a 3-0 lead after three.
Gelof wasn’t done there. In the fifth inning, he came to the plate after back-to-back singles from Teel and Gelof. This time, Gelof launched a rocket that landed well beyond the seats and doubled UVA’s lead to 6-0 with that one swing.
Those two home runs secured a spot in the record books for Gelof. With his first shot, he surpassed Pavin Smith for the program’s single season RBI record. He entered the game with 76 RBI so those two runs moved him past Pavin Smith’s 77 in 2017. His second rocket gave him a program record for career NCAA Tournament home runs (5) and a Virginia single-season record for multi-home run games (5). Gelof and Smith are the only players in Cavalier history to hit multiple home runs or drive in 5 RBIs in an NCAA Tournament game. Smith did it in separate games (East Carolina in 2016 and Dallas Baptist in 2017), while Gelof hit both markers against Coastal.
Virginia had complementary pitching through four innings too. Starter Jake Berry issued a one-out walk in the first inning, but picked off the runner. He got three quick outs in the second and then navigated around singles in the third and fourth with fielder’s choice outs. By the time he returned to the mound for the fifth inning, the Hoos owned that 6-0 lead and all the momentum thanks to Gelof’s giant bombs.
Suddenly, though, it all unraveled. Berry walked the first two batters of the inning and gave up his first run on a single. After finally getting an out, he fell behind 2-0 in the count again and O’Connor brought in Dylan Bowers in relief. Bowers couldn’t find the zone, though. The batter he inherited walked to load the bases, but he also gave free passes to Eric Brown (walk) and Tyler Johnson (hit by pitch). That cut the six-run lead in half before Paul Kosanovich came in and got out of the inning with a timely double play. Unfortunately, Kosanovich didn’t make it through the six unscathed too. Coastal Carolina got a lead-off homer from Nick Lucky, a double from Dale Thomas, and another home run from Graham Brown in the sixth inning to tie the game.
That set up a tense final three innings where both teams had chances. In the seventh, Tappen led off with a single but no one followed with a key hit and the Chanticleers loaded the bases after a sac bunt but Matt Wyatt got Virginia through it with a double play. After 1-2-3 eighth innings from both teams, each team had one last chance to avoid extra innings.
UVA’s Griff O’Ferrall led off with a single and Kyle Teel moved him over with a sac bunt, but Tappen (fly out), Gelof (intentionally walked), and Casey Saucke (fly out) followed to leave the runner stranded. Coastal Carolina’s turn mirrored the Hoos at first. Austin White singled to lead off and moved over on a sac bunt before Johnson intentionally walked. Chris Rowan Jr. ended the symmetry – and Virginia’s season – right there. He singled up the middle and the Chanticleers walked off with the 7-6 win.
“First and foremost, disappointed with the end of the season. Certainly, when it happens this sudden there is a lot of emotion from the player standpoint. That’s because they care about each other, they care about the uniform that they wear and they have a lot of respect for everything that they put into it,” O’Connor said. “We did a great job against their starter [Michael Knorr], a terrific job. We took a 6-0 lead and [Jake] Berry was pitching great and then just couldn’t find it. We had that tough inning but we were able to manage it. Make it 6-3 and they did a great job off [Paul] Kosanovich who has done a terrific job for us all year. Nobody’s swung the bat like that against him this year and they did a great job. He had left a couple of sliders up in the zone and they hit him out to their credit. We had some opportunities late and just couldn’t cash in. That’s the game.”
“We did take advantage of those opportunities early,” O’Connor added. “We talk a lot about this game as a game of momentum and part of our responsibility is to manage it when it’s not going your way and. Coastal climbed back in it and had some good momentum in the back half of the game and congratulations to them.”