Unlikely hero: UVA freshman Ernie Clement delivers, sends Cavs to Omaha

Clement_Ernie_15MThe count is 2-2, bases loaded, no outs, bottom of the ninth. Maryland leads UVA 4-3, and freshman second baseman Ernie Clement is in the crosshairs of Terps closer Kevin Mooney.

Maryland coach John Szefc has the infield in at the corners and at double-play depth at second and short, willing to concede the tying run to get two outs and play on. Mooney, for his part, is bearing down for a K that can give him the chance to close out the game with a double play with one down.

Clement is just looking for something that he can put into play, either on the ground or in the air into the outfield, to at least get the tying run home.

Virginia starting pitcher Brandon Waddell was all by his lonesome, as far away from the action as he could be.

“I was out in the bullpen. It’s kind of roomy out there compared to the dugout,” said Waddell, who gave up four runs on 10 hits in eight gutty innings, striking out seven and walking two, but at the moment, it was Waddell who would be the losing pitcher if the 4-3 score held up.

“I could not stop pacing. Back and forth, head turns toward the field, away from the field. I didn’t really know what to do,” Waddell said.

“We were in a big situation. We had confidence in all of our guys, so we knew the big hit was coming, just any time, it was just a matter of when,” Waddell said.

“It’s nerve-wracking not being able to go out there and help or do anything about it, you’re just sitting back watching. But it’s exciting. It’s a rush like no other. That’s the best way to explain it,” Waddell said.

Clement was lost in the moment. Trying, among other things, not to think about what teammate Matt Thaiss had told him in between innings.

“I think I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket after this, because I told Ernie he was going to come up that inning, and that he was going to get a big hit. I also told our strength and conditioning coach in the dugout that Ernie looks a lot like Chris Taylor,” Thaiss said.

Chris Taylor is now in Triple-A after a 20-game stint in the big leagues earlier this year with Seattle, but four years ago, Taylor was the UVA shortstop whose two-run single in the bottom of the ninth against Cal-Irvine sent Virginia to its second-ever College World Series.

Before the walk-off hit that would cause instant goosebumps for UVA baseball fans at the story again being retold, though, Taylor had misplayed a throw from catcher John Hicks on a sacrifice bunt that eventually set the stage for the go-ahead run for the Anteaters in the top of the ninth.

Clement, similarly, had a miscue hanging over his head, or in his case, a pair of them – two efforts to advance on balls in the dirt that ended with him tagged out at second base, snuffing out Virginia scoring threats.

“He made some mistakes early on, but he didn’t hang his head, he didn’t feel sorry for himself,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “That says something of maturity of what him and (Pavin) Smith and (Adam) Haseley and other guys have learned in this year in this program. If Ernie sits there and pouts and feels sorry for himself, he doesn’t do what he did in the ninth inning.”

The ninth inning. The 2-2 pitch. Clement said he had gone into the at bat “looking for a fastball at first, but what we saw in our report was that he would go to a breaking ball.”

“That turned out to be what I got, and I put it in play.”

Put it in play, Clement did, understated though he related it. Clement lined the 2-2 breaking ball to left field for a base hit, and as soon as the ball left his bat, it was obvious that it was going to be the second walk-off at Davenport Field that would send UVA to a College World Series.

“I think my heart stopped,” Thaiss said, of the moment that the ball was slicing through the air, and the realization began to become clear, that more history was being made.

“It hasn’t really set in yet, I guess,” Clement said, trying to give his side of the story relative to the moment that a flick of his wrists made happen, sending Virginia to its fourth College World Series in seven years, and without question its most improbable.

“I’m still kind of dinged up from getting dogpiled on,” Clement said. “My head is pretty banged up, has a nice scratch. But it’s cool, really cool. A lot of fun. I don’t know how else to describe it. Just a lot of fun.

“It’s completely worth it, though. I’ll take it any day of the week.”

– Story by Chris Graham


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