Brian O’Connor said earlier in the week that he had “full confidence” in his closer, Jay Woolfolk. He obviously doesn’t, and the result was a stunning snatching defeat from the jaws of victory loss in Game 1 of the College World Series on Friday night in Omaha.
Virginia led 4-1 in the seventh and 5-3 in the ninth, but lefty reliever Jake Berry, who had already given up an eighth-inning homer to lefthanded-hitting BT Riopelle, gave up two more bombs in the ninth, and was for some reason still in the game long enough to load the bases before finally getting the hook.
Woolfolk, then, gave up a game-winning sac fly to Florida DH Luke Heyman, capping the Gators’ comeback, and also what may be the worst hour of decision-making that we will ever see from one of the smartest baseball guys you’ll ever know.
The 6-5 loss sends Virginia to an elimination game on Sunday at 2 p.m. against TCU, which gave up four runs in the ninth in a 6-5 loss to Oral Roberts in the first game of the CWS Saturday afternoon.
UVA (50-14) scored four runs in the seventh to take the lead for the first time, with the big hits being a two-run double from Griff O’Ferrall and an RBI single from Ethan O’Donnell.
O’Connor, at this point, up 4-1, had starting pitcher Nick Parker rolling. Parker, through six innings, battled his way to keep the deep Florida (51-15) lineup to just one run on four hits, and he’d retired seven straight, and at 90 pitches, he seemed to have at least a few bullets left to use to get through another inning.
But after the long half-inning in the top of the seventh, O’Connor went to the bullpen, rifling through lefty Evan Blanco and righty Jack O’Connor, each of whom were used to get one out, with leadoff man Cade Kurland producing a run with an RBI groundout, before Oak summoned Berry to get the final out of the inning.
Virginia went down in order in the top of the eighth – Jake Gelof, Kyle Teel and Ethan Anderson.
The 3-4-5 hitters for UVA were a combined 1-for-9 at the plate on the night.
A leadoff BT Riopelle solo homer got the score to 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth before Berry got the side down from there.
A two-out RBI triple from Harrison Didawick, Virginia’s nine-hole hitter, gave the Cavaliers what looked to be an important insurance run in the top of the ninth.
Berry, a lefty, at that point was at 25 pitches, and Florida’s first three due up were all righties.
With Woolfolk, in name his closer, ready in the pen, O’Connor stayed with Berry, who gave up his second homer of the night to Florida nine-hole hitter Ty Evans, who went deep to lead off the bottom of the ninth to get the margin down to 5-4.
Berry got Kurland looking for the first out, ahead of a deafening 456-foot blast to the concourse in left off the bat of Wyatt Lankford that tied the game at 5-5.
With Woolfolk standing on the mound in the Virginia bullpen, O’Connor inexplicably stayed with Berry who, by that point, had surrendered three homers.
The next hitter, Jac Caglianone, lined a sharp single to right-center.
Berry then walked Josh Rivera on a 3-2 pitch, and with his next pitch hit Riopelle to load the bases.
Three more batters, seriously?
It was at this point, with the outcome almost already decided, that O’Connor finally made the call to Woolfolk, who fell behind the next hitter, Heyman 2-0, then grooved the next pitch middle-middle, which Heyman lined to deep center, and despite the nice running catch by Ethan O’Donnell, Caglianone scored with ease for the walk-off.