Behind seven shutout innings from starting pitcher Connor Jones (Jr., Chesapeake, Va.), the Virginia baseball team opened its 2016 season with an 8-6 win over Kent State Friday in the Caravelle Resort Tournament at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark in Myrtle Beach. Ranked between No. 4 and No. 13 in the preseason polls, the Cavaliers jumped out to an 8-0 advantage after eight innings before holding off a six-run Kent State rally in the ninth inning.
“This was a good win for us,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Connor Jones was tremendous tonight and gave us exactly what we needed. He was efficient and threw the ball great. (Eric) Lauer is one of the best pitchers we will see this season, and we had a good approach against him. Our guys really fought against him and laid off some close pitches. Certainly we did not do a great job out of the bullpen, but we’re getting guys out there and getting them experience.”
Jones (1-0) worked seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out eight. He retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced. With the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, Alec Bettinger (Jr., Woodbridge, Va.) got the final out of the game to earn his first save.
Preseason All-America left-hander Eric Lauer (0-1) started for Kent State and worked five innings, allowing three earned runs, four hits and five walks while striking out five in taking the loss.
Ernie Clement (So., Rochester, N.Y.) and Matt Thaiss (Jr., Jackson, N.J.) each recorded three hits for Virginia, which finished with 11 for the game. Clement and Pavin Smith (So., Jupiter, Fla.) each knocked in a pair of runs.
Virginia broke a scoreless deadlock in the fourth inning. With two out and runners on first and second, Adam Haseley (So., Windermere, Fla.) drew a walk to load the bases. Lauer uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Robbie Coman (Sr., Lake Worth, Fla.) to cross the plate, and Clement followed with a two-run single to center, bringing in Jake McCarthy (Fr., Scranton, Pa.) and Haseley.
The Cavaliers tacked on a run in the seventh inning. Clement bunted his way on base and moved to second on a wild pitch. After Thaiss grounded to second base to move Clement to third, Smith bounced a single through the middle of the drawn-in infield to make it a 4-0 game.
UVA doubled its lead with four runs in the eighth. Freshman Cameron Simmons (Royersford, Pa.) launched a solo home run to left-center field to open the inning. A passed ball with the bases loaded later in the inning allowed Haseley to score. Smith followed with an RBI single and Daniel Pinero (Jr., Toronto, Ontario) added a sacrifice fly to give UVA an 8-0 edge.
Kent State nearly pulled off an epic comeback by sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring six runs in the ninth inning. The first four Golden Flashes reached base safely against UVA reliever Chesdin Harrington (Fr., Montpelier, Va.), including a two-run single from Luke Burch. David Rosenberger (Sr., Bethlehem, Pa.) took over and got the first two outs before allowing an RBI single to Dom Iero and a three-run double to Pete Schuler. Bettinger then entered and hit Zach Hollander before getting Mason Mamarella to ground to shortstop for a fielder’s choice at second base to end the game.
Virginia continues play in the Caravelle Resort Tournament at 4 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 20) when it takes on Appalachian State. The audio of the game will air on VirginiaSports.com and is available through a Cavaliers Live subscription. In the Charlottesville area, WINA 1070-AM and 98.9 FM will have the radio broadcast. A link to live statistics also can be found on VirginiaSports.com.