So much went wrong for Virginia in its elimination game with TCU on Sunday, and yet, the game – and ultimately, the season – still came down to the last swing.
Sophomore DH Anthony Stephan, who had two homers in last weekend’s Super Regional series win over Duke, struck out with two outs and a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth, allowing TCU to hold on for the 4-3 win.
It was the second straight one-run loss for the ‘Hoos (50-15) in Omaha, after Florida walked off Virginia with three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win, 6-5.
The Game 1 loss was the result of sketchy decision-making by coach Brian O’Connor, who lifted his starting pitcher, Nick Parker, too early, then stuck with reliever Jake Berry too long.
Sunday’s Game 2 was a slog all day long for Virginia, which fell behind 1-0 in the top of the first on a sac-fly RBI by Cole Fontenelle, but was able to tie things up in the bottom of the first on an RBI fielder’s choice from three-hole hitter Jake Gelof.
Virginia’s first two batters of the game, Griff O’Farrell and Ethan O’Donnell, had reached on base hits to lead off the first, ahead of Gelof’s RBI grounder.
The next Cavalier base hit wouldn’t come until the bottom of the seventh, when Ethan Anderson led off that frame with a solo homer to cut a 3-1 deficit to 3-2.
By that point, O’Connor had needed to replace his starting pitcher, Connelly Early, who was only able to go five innings, needing 101 pitches to get through five.
Early, who went seven innings in his Game 2 Super Regional win last weekend, gave up six hits and walked three batters on Friday, surrendering the second run of his afternoon in the third on an RBI groundout by Fontenelle that, as it turns out, gave TCU the lead for good.
Early, a midweek starter until he pitched himself into the weekend rotation in May, didn’t retire the TCU side in order a single time on the afternoon; in fact, the Horned Frogs (43-23) had at least one baserunner in all nine of its turns at bat.
Virginia’s presumptive Game 3 starter, Brian Edgington, got the call from the bullpen to replace Early, but Edgington, who went the distance in the Game 3 clincher last weekend, didn’t fare any better, getting touched for two runs on five hits, with two Ks and two walks in two and two-thirds innings of work on Sunday.
The first run off Edgington came on a two-out RBI single by TCU leadoff man Elijah Nunez that made it 3-1 Horned Frogs in the sixth.
The Anderson homer got Virginia back to 3-2 in the seventh.
The pivotal play of the game would come in the top of the eighth. With a runner on second and one down, Edgington induced a fly ball to deep center off the bat of Austin Davis that O’Donnell didn’t get a good read on – he seemed to at first misjudge the distance, then after correcting on that took a bad route.
What should have been a flyball out turned into an RBI double that pushed the TCU lead to 4-2.
Nine-hole hitter Harrison Didawick led off the Virginia eighth with a sharp single to center, then, with leadoff man Griff O’Ferrall at the plate, Didawick stole second to get into scoring position.
O’Ferrall, who homered to lead off the first inning in Virginia’s Game 2 win last weekend, almost tied the game on the 1-2 pitch from TCU reliever Ben Abeldt, taking leftfielder Luke Boyers to the warning track in left-center.
Didawick tagged and advanced to third, and scored on a sharply hit grounder off the bat of O’Donnell into the shift.
Gelof then hit a lazy fly ball to left to end the eighth.
That flyball out wrapped an 0-for-7 weekend at the dish for Gelof, who is projected to be a first-round pick in next month’s MLB Draft.
Fontenelle led off the TCU ninth with a single off UVA freshman reliever Bradley Hodges, who was getting his first action since the NCAA Tournament opener on June 2.
Tre Richardson bunted Fontenelle to second, and O’Connor replaced Hodges with his putative closer, sophomore Jay Woolfolk, who for some reason didn’t get the call on Friday night with Virginia up 5-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, and only got in after Berry surrendered a pair of long home runs and then loaded the bases with one out.
Woolfolk was on the mound for the game-winning sac fly from Luke Heyman that ended the 6-5 loss.
That Woolfolk got the next two batters on weak fly balls will no doubt frustrate Virginia fans.
Woolfolk’s statline for the weekend in Omaha: one inning pitched, three flyball outs.
ACC Player of the Year Kyle Teel struck out to lead off the bottom of the ninth for UVA, concluding an 0-for-7 weekend for the junior, who, like Gelof, is expected to be a first-round MLB Draft pick next month.
Anderson grounded out to short for the second out. Casey Saucke singled to center, and Nunez misplayed the ball, allowing Saucke to reach second, giving Virginia one last hope.
Abeldt got Stephan with a 1-2 high fastball to end the game, and the 2023 Virginia season.