Home ‘We all just believe in each other’; Virginia rallies late, stuns Mississippi State, 5-4

‘We all just believe in each other’; Virginia rallies late, stuns Mississippi State, 5-4

Chris Graham
uva baseball walkoff
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia trailed for what felt like a solid couple of hours, after an early three-run homer and an error on a pickoff attempt put Mississippi State ahead in the early innings.

State’s starter, Jurrangelo Cijntje, was dealing, holding the potent UVA offense to two runs on four hits through six innings, retiring eight straight, at one point, after giving up a second-inning two-run triple to Virginia third baseman Eric Becker.

One thing about this Virginia baseball team, though, is, it doesn’t quit.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Virginia Tech got out to a 7-0 lead in the second inning, but the ‘Hoos chipped away, chipped away, chipped away, then won it in the 13th on a Harrison Didawick walkoff homer.

Iowa, remember that one, way back in February, led 6-0 after one inning; Virginia scored three in the ninth in a 12-9 win.

Wake Forest led 5-0 in the second of the teams’ series opener in March; UVA scored seven in its half of the second, then eight in the sixth, in a 16-10 romp.

The series finale with the Demon Deacons had them up 10-5 in the seventh; Virginia tied the game in the ninth and walked off Wake in the 10th in an 11-10 win.

You’re getting tired of me going through this list, but I’ve got one more: North Carolina, the #4 national seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, led UVA 11-6 in the third in their series opener; Virginia scored the last eight runs to win 14-11.

Belabored point being: there’s no quit in this team.

“Whenever we’re in a clutch moment, we all just believe in each other,” said Didawick, who had two hits, one in the seventh and one in the bottom of the ninth, scoring after both, the one in the ninth being the game-winning run, in a 5-4 UVA win.

The seventh-inning hit, an infield single, came after Jacob Ference had led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to left.

Henry Godbout, who had a three-run homer in Virginia’s 4-2 win over Penn on Friday, bunted the runners to second and third, setting up Becker, the eight-hole hitter.

Working the count to 2-0 off Cijntje, Becker sent a fastball back up the middle to score Ference and Didawick, the Didawick run being the one that tied the game at 4-4.

UVA starter Evan Blanco pitched into the seventh, but was lifted after giving up a leadoff single to Aaron Downs.

Brian O’Connor went to freshman righty Matt Augustin, who’d only gotten four innings of work in the entire month of May, but has electric stuff – a fastball that touches the mid-90s – and grit to match.

“He’s done the job a lot this year for us, and we have a ton of confidence in him,” O’Connor said after the game. “Coach Drew (Dickinson, the UVA pitching coach) and I talked before this regional, and decided when it was a big moment in the regionals, that Matt Augustin was going to be in the game. Because he’s got guts, he makes big pitches, and that was on full display tonight. You know, he would walk somebody on four pitches or, you know, the at bat against (Dakota) Jordan, you know, shows what he’s not only his ability, but his poise for an 18-year-old is quite impressive.”

It was still 4-2 Bulldogs when Augustin relieved Blanco with one on and nobody out in the seventh.

The freshman got Johnny Long on a fielder’s choice, then walked Amani Larry to put two on with one out, before inducing a flyball out from David Mershon, then striking out Jordan, a projected 2024 first-round MLB draft pick, on three pitches – fastballs that registered 94, 95 and 95 on the gun.

“Honestly, that was probably the best moment that I’ve ever seen,” Augustin told reporters after the game. “Like, the crowd was absolutely electric. Coming into it, seeing everybody, obviously, it made my heart rate rise. But after the first couple batters, my heart rate slowed down, I was able to lock in on it. I kind of blacked out to a point where I don’t really remember what happened.”

After UVA tied the game on the Becker two-run single in the bottom of the seventh, Augustin had to pitch around more trouble in the eighth – a leadoff walk to Hunter Hines, who had the three-run homer off Blanco in the third that had put Mississippi State on top, then a two-out single by Logan Koehler that put runners on the corners, ahead of Koehler getting to second on a stolen base.

Augustin got out of that jam with another strikeout, getting Aaron Downs looking on a 3-2 fastball.

Mississippi State put together another two-out rally in the ninth, after Augustin walked Mershon, then surrendered a single on an 0-2 pitch to Jordan that put runners on the corners.

O’Connor went to the pen again, summoning lefty Angelo Tonas to face Hines, who grounded out to second on the first pitch to end that threat.

UVA’s half of the ninth started with a ground-rule double from Didawick, then a walk to Godbout.

Becker, up next, reached on a fielder’s choice that advanced Didawick to third.

O’Connor put Becker in motion on the first pitch of the at-bat to Bobby Whalen, who grounded the pitch from Mississippi State reliever Tyson Hardin to Larry, the second baseman, who was racing to second to cover the bag on the steal attempt.

It appeared as if Larry was thinking of trying to field the ball, tag the bag and then try to get Whalen at first for a double play, but in the process, he kicked the grounder past second.

Everybody was safe, and that was the ballgame.

“I’m just really, really proud of the grit and the fight that our team showed,” O’Connor said when it was all said and done. “Either team could have won that ballgame. It came down to, we just did a little bit more. Just really, really proud of our guys, that they hung in there.”

With the win, UVA advances to the regional final on Sunday (6 p.m.) and awaits the winner of Mississippi State-St. John’s, which is slated for noon on Sunday.

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].