Home Blanco pitches through early misplay, Godbout homers late, to key UVA Game 1 win
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Blanco pitches through early misplay, Godbout homers late, to key UVA Game 1 win

Chris Graham
evan blanco uva baseball
Photo: UVA Athletics

The second pitch of the ballgame from Virginia starter Evan Blanco induced a weak flyball to centerfield off the bat of Kansas State leadoff man Brendan Jones.

Should have been an easy out, but it wasn’t.

UVA centerfielder Bobby Whalen lost the ball in the sun, and by the time he picked it up off the ground, Jones was headed to third with what would be scored a triple.

Baseball official scoring: odd.

The way Blanco handled things was key to how the rest of the night went for Virginia in what turned into a 7-4 win that gives the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead on K State in the best-of-three Super Regional series.

“As a pitcher, you’ve got to flip the page pretty quickly. I feel like I did a good job of that, getting three consecutive outs right after that. So, kind of just flipping the page is kind of the key in this game,” said Blanco, who went seven innings, giving up four runs on five hits, striking out nine and walking one.

Virginia coach Brian O’Connor admitted in his postgame with reporters that the younger version of Virginia coach Brian O’Connor might have processed the misplay a bit differently, but with age and experience comes wisdom.

“My reaction was just to take a deep breath and not, you know, get upset, right. I think that’s incredibly important for everybody in our dugout, just to take it for what it is, and that sometimes this time of year, you see some things that are pretty crazy, and not get emotional about it,” O’Connor said.

“What was important that, Evan spoke about this earlier, that, you know, just concede the run, right, don’t try to pitch out of, runner on third base, no out. Get the next guy in front of you and manage that inning, versus it becoming a multiple-run inning, and it’s things like that that ultimately won us the ballgame,” O’Connor said.

It would still take a while for things to turn around for UVA, which fell behind 3-0 in the third after a two-run double by projected 2024 MLB first-round draft pick Kaelen Culpepper.

And for a time, Kansas State’s starter, Owen Boerema, who doesn’t exactly possess electric stuff – his fastball sat in the 86-88 mph range, but he got tons of swings-and-misses and weak contacts with his changeup – was keeping the UVA bats silent.

Virginia didn’t break through until the fifth, and it took some help. A leadoff walk to Griff O’Ferrall was followed by a sharp ground ball off the bat of Whalen that went through the wickets of K State third baseman Jaden Parsons, putting runners on second and third with nobody out.

This allowed UVA to score runs on back-to-back outs – a deep drive to the warning track in right off the bat of Casey Saucke that scored O’Ferrall and allowed Whelan to get to third, followed by a groundball out off the bat of Henry Ford, with the left side of the infield playing back, that scored Whelan from third.

Another K State miscue, a sixth-inning wild pitch by reliever Blake Dean, set up O’Ferrall with runners and second and third with two down, ahead of a ground-rule double that scored Henry Godbout and Ethan Anderson, giving Virginia a 4-3 lead.

David Bishop took a 1-2 pitch over the wall in right-center to tie the game at 4-4 in the seventh, but Blanco was able to get out of the inning with no further damage, which was the theme of the night for the sophomore lefty.

“You know, your job as a starter, even though, if you fall behind, is to go out there and keep your team in the ballgame, and he kept us in the game enough to, and he knows what our offensive capability is, that if he goes out there, and even after giving up runs, that he manages innings and pitches deep into the ballgame,” O’Connor said.

The bottom of the seventh began with Saucke reaching first after being hit by a 1-0 pitch. Ford flied out to right for out number one, then Saucke stole second base ahead of a walk to Jacob Ference.

K State coach Pete Hughes went to the bullpen to go to lefty Cole Wisenbaker to pitch to lefthanded-hitting Harrison Didawick, UVA’s home-run leader this season, with 23.

Didawick hit into a fielder’s choice to set up a first-and-third, two-out at bat for Godbout, who remembered O’Connor telling him ahead of his previous at bat that he would need to “buckle up in the back half of the game.”

“That’s what I tried to do, and I got a pitch to hit,” said Godbout, who blasted a 1-0 fastball from Wisenbaker deep into the night – 414 feet, according to the ESPN broadcast, two-thirds of the way into the ‘Hoo Zone in left field.

Godbout’s second homer of the 2024 postseason made it 7-4, and relievers Angelo Tonas and Matt Augustin would set the Wildcats down in order in the eighth and ninth to close things out.

The win puts Virginia a game away from another trip to Omaha for the College World Series, but O’Connor, who has taken six teams to the CWS, knows that there is still plenty of work to do between now and then.

“I think, you know, some teams and coaches make a mistake by, you know, thinking, one game away, right. Focus on coming out and playing hard and playing good Virginia baseball, and if the opportunity is there to advance on, we will,” O’Connor said.

“Listen, Kansas State is not going to go away. They are an incredibly talented team. They went 3-0 in the Arkansas regional. We have the utmost respect for their ballclub, their offensive team, and they’re going to run some really high-quality arms out there tomorrow. So, we need to be locked in and just focus on what’s in front of us tomorrow and not to get too far ahead of ourselves,” O’Connor said.

Virginia is going with Jay Woolfolk, the Most Outstanding Player of the Charlottesville Regional, as the Game 2 starter on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPNU).

Woolfolk, after an up-and-down – OK, it was almost entirely down – 2024 season, pitched the game of his life in the regional clincher, holding Mississippi State to two runs on eight hits in eight-plus innings of work in the 9-2 win.

“It’s really just, going out there and being Jay Woolfolk, and getting us off to a good start, you know, that what’s key, that’s what’s important,” O’Connor said. “What Jay did last Sunday, he earned the opportunity that he has tomorrow, and you know, I expect him to go out there and attack and pitch us a great ballgame. I don’t know that he’ll go eight innings again like he did last Sunday, but I’m very, very confident that he’ll go out there and give it everything he has and give us a chance to win the game.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].