Virginia Baseball Completely Thumps Georgia Tech

Virginia Cavaliers
Nick Parker tossed a complete game (7 innings) for Virginia while allowing just 1 run. ~ Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics Media Relations via Twitter

DURHAM, N.C. – In the fall, we talk about complementary football. All three phases – offense, defense, and special teams. Baseball has three phases as well. Pitching, hitting, and defense. The Virginia baseball team played as close to a perfect game as you will find in championship play with its 15-1 drubbing of Georgia Tech on Wednesday afternoon at the ACC Tournament.

Further embarrassment for the Yellow Jackets was averted when the game concluded after the seventh inning as the Hoos run-ruled the designated home team. Ironically, it was another Georgia Tech club that UVA last run-ruled in game one of the ACC Championship in 2015.

Asked if he thought that could be a good omen, Virginia skipper Brian O’Connor quipped, “That ended up being a good year,” referring to UVA’s 2015 College World Series title.

While this year’s postseason story is yet to be written, it got off to a good start in Durham. The Hoos completely dominated Tech.

In terms of pitching and defense, Virginia held the Yellow Jackets to one run or less for only the second time this season. As for the offensive rankings, Georgia Tech is second in the ACC in batting average, hits, doubles, RBI, and slugging, third in runs scored, triples, home runs, and on base percentage, and No. 1 in total bases. Entering ACC Tournament week, Tech was No. 5 nationally with a .324 batting average, second in hits and doubles, 10th in the NCAA in runs scored, 13th in slugging percentage, and No. 16 in on base percentage.

In other words, GT’s offense usually produces and it did put up 5, 6, and 7 runs in the final series of the regular season against UVA. On Wednesday, however, Tech simply couldn’t get going.

“Credit Virginia,” said Yellow Jacket coach Danny Hall. “They pitched well, played good defense, and got hits when they needed them.”

Overall, the Hoos hit .436 for the game compared to the Jackets’ .174, they hit at a .385 clip with bases loaded while Tech was 0-5 and the Hoos batted .714 leading off an inning while the white and gold went 2-7. Virginia starting pitcher Nick Parker and the UVA defense held Tech to 0-fers with runners on base (0-8), runners in scoring position (0-2), runners on third with less than two outs (0-1), and bases loaded (0-1).

The leading man in this outing was Parker along with the defensive supporting cast. The UVA starter allowed 4 hits and just 1 run when the game was out of reach. He walked 1 batter and fanned 5. He threw 99 pitches, 65% for strikes.

“That started with Nick Parker going out there and throwing seven innings and shutting down arguably the best offense in this league,” O’Connor said. “Pitching seven innings, knowing what we have in front of us was huge for us.”

“He threw all four pitches for strikes and kept us off balance all day,” Hall added.

Centerfielder Jake DeLeo said having faced them less than a week ago, Parker had the opportunity to adapt to the Jackets’ hitting approach. “He faced us one time and so they can go back and look at some film and see what we did well and make some adjustments.”

Parker backed up DeLeo’s assessment.

“We had a chance to watch the video of what we had done the week prior and I felt like I could definitely have better stuff from week to week,” Parker said. “I felt like I was in a good position to keep trending back in the right direction as we have over the past couple of weeks, even as a team. Getting ahead, being more aggressive: those were my focus.”

Parker’s pitch execution was spot on in the Hoos’ tourney opener.

Maybe no more so than in the bottom of the fourth inning. After the Cavaliers boosted a 1-run lead up to 3-0, the Yellow Jackets threatened in the bottom of the frame. After retiring the first 6 batters he faced and getting a double play in the third inning to face the minimum, Parker faced a tougher situation in the fourth.

Georgia Tech leadoff hitter Kristian Campbell grounded out to to Jake Gelof to open the at-bat, but DeLeo tripled and Parker walked Stephen Reid. He then allowed Jacket shortstop Angelo Dispigna to reach base after being hit by a pitch. After a mound visit from pitching coach Drew Dickinson, Parker and the ACC Player of the Year, catcher Kyle Teel, decided to be bold and went with an inside, thigh-high, off-speed pitch, which Tech third baseman Drew Compton roped to a perfectly positioned Henry Godbout at second. Godbout flipped the ball to Virginia shortstop Griff O’Ferrall for an out, but O’Ferrall’s relay to first pulled Ethan Anderson away from the bag. Anderson, however, masterfully caught the errant throw and tagged Compton for the out to complete the 6-4-3 double play and end the threat.

Coach Hall called the play “a turning point in the game. It was a first pitch, hit right at the second baseman. The thing I think about Virginia is they’re going to pitch, and throw strikes, and those two middle infielders are really good.”

Parker said the approach at that moment in the game was about control. I wanted to “manage the situation, not letting things spiral out of control. I made an aggressive pitch and got the ground ball.”

Parker also had high praise and appreciation for the defense calling them a lifesaver.

“You talk about three double-plays in one game, that really keeps your pitch count down. Our defense is just all over the place and it makes pitching to contact a lot easier,” Parker explained. “You can be a lot more aggressive on the mound because you know they’re going to make plays for you. That’s what is so great about our team, everyone is picking each other up right now.”

Another aspect of Virginia players picking up the team comes from the 6-9 slots in the batting order on offense. Since the exam break, three of the primary 6-9 hitters have raised their batting average over the last seven games. Three of the four have raised their on base percentage, three of the four have raised their batting average with RISP (18.6%, 10.4%, and 6.25%) and there have been large-scale increases in the number of two-out RBI. Hitters 6-9 have gone from delivering 1.040 two-out RBI per game to cranking out over double that amount at 2.143 per outing.

Halloween is still five months away, but if one through nine in the batting order continues raking at this 10-run per game pace over UVA’s current 10-game winning streak, it’s going to be a scary NCAA Tournament for Virginia’s opposition.

On what D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt called “Beastmode”, Casey Saucke offered this assessment of the UVA offense.

“That rough patch we went through as a team, that happens as part of a season,” Saucke said. “The last couple of weeks we’ve been doing a good job working early, seeing pitches well, and trying to put some bigger swings on the ball and do some damage. We’ve had the right mentality as an offense the last few weeks.”

Coach O’Connor agreed, noting that the depth of the lineup is a strength. A lot is made of table setters Griff O’Ferrall and Ethan O’Donnell at the top of the lineup and then three through five, Teel, Gelof, and Anderson, yet O’Connor says without the deep hitting lineup 1-9, “we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now, all nine guys that are in that lineup every day. The depth, whether it’s Casey Saucke picking somebody up in front of him or driving in a couple of runs, Colin Tuft or Henry Godbout, the year Anthony Stephan is having. It was impressive, the 2-strike triple he had in that eight-run inning. That was huge to break it open a little bit.”

“We were opportunistic, we got guys on and got big hits,” O’Connor continued. “O’Donnell’s home run with two strikes and Anderson on a 3-2 count, hits a ball out the other way. What impressed me most as a coach, their first couple of at-bats maybe don’t go so great, but then the adjustments they make throughout the game, and that’s what today was about.”

With the complementary pitching, defense, and offense in place, Parker improved to 7-0 on the season with the win. More important, his complete game put Dickinson and O’Connor in the enviable position of having their full bullpen at their disposal for Thursday’s game against North Carolina. The winner secures an ACC Tournament Semifinal spot on Saturday.

O’Connor said Virginia will go with Conner Early on the mound to start against UNC.

“The last two weeks are as good as we’ve played all year and that’s what you’re striving for,” O’Connor said. “Certainly, there was a two to three-week period there where we had a bit of a lull. Our guys continued to grind and knew that our time was coming to play our best baseball and right now is when you want to be doing that.”

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