Who was, wasn’t available in the Virginia bullpen in Omaha?

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Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

We didn’t see Blake Bales in the College World Series, though we were never told that he wouldn’t be available.

Turns out, he wasn’t.

“There were some guys that weren’t available out there that had pitched maybe for us two weeks prior and things like that, you know, some guys top of our stat sheet that, you know, didn’t pitch in Omaha, and it’s unfortunate, but it speaks to that they stepped up for their team and did what they needed to do, and maybe overextended themselves, for us to have that opportunity, and for that we’re certainly grateful for them,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said this week on a “Jerry Ratcliffe Show” podcast wrapping the 2021 UVA baseball season.

He didn’t specifically mention Bales (3-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 54K/15BB in 38.0 IP, .138 opponent BA), who got one out in the postseason, in the 3-2 elimination game win over South Carolina on June 6, before leaving with an undisclosed injury.

O’Connor would say during press conferences on the road to Omaha that Bales, a finalist for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year award, had not suffered what would be considered a season-ending injury, but as it turned out, Bales never factored into the equation for Virginia after the Columbia Regional.

Also left largely out of the thinking was junior lefty Brandon Neeck (2-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 40K/11BB in 23.1 IP, .225 opponent BA), who memorably struck out 16 in relief in UVA’s 8-3 win over ODU on June 6.

Neeck was called on for an inning, and got the win in relief, in Virginia’s 4-0 win over Dallas Baptist in Game 2 of the Super Regional on June 13, but he was not used in any of the Cavaliers’ three games in the College World Series.

Neeck, a draft-eligible sophomore, could hear his name called in the July 11-13 draft. He was a Top 200 prospect coming out of high school, but he did miss the 2019 season due to an injury suffered in high school.

He underwent reconstructive surgery on his left shoulder two weeks into his freshman year at UVA, before returning in the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season, getting mound time in three games, throwing two innings all told.

Neeck isn’t currently listed among Baseball America’s Top 500 prospects heading into the 20-round draft, though his otherworldly performance against ODU in Columbia certainly speaks to what he can do.

O’Connor also didn’t specifically mention Neeck when addressing who was and wasn’t available in the pen in Omaha.

“I have a responsibility to, you know, Jerry, to protect them, and, you know, when it’s injury- and medical-related things like that, you know, you’ve got to kind of tap dance around and be very, very careful,” O’Connor said.

“It’s just too bad that, you know, it didn’t all come together, and we didn’t have everybody available to to make a run at this title. That said, I still felt like we could do it. I still felt like that, you know, that we still had enough to be able to win at all.”

Story by Chris Graham

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