Late Cavalier rally comes up short; UVA will need to win two Sunday to stay alive

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia ran into the hottest college baseball team in America on Saturday night and couldn’t overcome solid pitching performances by No. 8 seed East Carolina in a 4-2 loss to the Pirates in the NCAA Greenville regional.

ECU (44-18) took an early lead and never trailed as the Pirates won their 20th consecutive game, which leads the nation. East Carolina hasn’t dropped a game since April 26.

Virginia (39-18) dropped into the loser’s bracket and will face Coastal Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN+. Should the Cavaliers win (they defeated Coastal 7-2 in Friday’s opener), they would meet ECU again Sunday evening at 7. If necessary, the two teams would play again Monday at 1 for the right to move on to the Super Regional.

If any of the teams in the NCAA Tournament know anything about elimination games, it’s UVA. Last season, the Cavaliers became only the third team in Division I history to win six elimination games en route to Omaha. Should UVA get past Coastal on Sunday, the Cavaliers would have to win two more games against host ECU to advance out of the region, which would put a major strain on Brian O’Connor’s pitching staff.

In Saturday night’s game, Virginia had the bases loaded in the ninth with the tying run 90 feet away and only one out, but the Cavaliers couldn’t bring Kyle Teel home, as East Carolina’s Zach Agnos moved over from shortstop to slam the door.

Teel had singled off of AAC Pitcher of the Year Carter Spivey to center field to jumpstart one last Wahoo rally in the final inning. Casey Saucke followed with a base hit to right to chase Spivey and keep the momentum rolling. Another freshman, Ethan Anderson, then drew a five-pitch walk off of Agnos to load the bases and make the purple-clad Pirate fans a bit nervous.

Agnos settled in, however, striking out Chris Newell and Max Cotier to end the contest in front of a loud, sold-out, record crowd of over 5,000 at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

East Carolina, the tournament’s No. 8 overall seed, set the tone in the bottom of the second inning with a two-run blast off the bat of Josh Moylan for a quick 2-0 advantage.

Devin Ortiz’s two-out single in the fourth marked the first Wahoo hit since the first inning, but ECU starter C.J. Mayhue got Teel to strike out looking to end the frame.

With two down in the fifth inning, Newell put the Hoos on the board with a solo shot off of the batter’s eye in center field to cut the Pirate lead in half, 2-1.

Just when the Cavaliers looked to steal some momentum and quiet the record sellout crowd, Justin Wilcoxen sent the first pitch of the bottom-half of the fifth — a hanging Brian Gursky slider — over the wall for just his second home run of the season to extend the lead to 3-1. It was the fifth ECU homer in the first two days of the regional.

Gursky went 5.2 innings (86 pitches), allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits, walking one and striking out two. The two surrendered long balls proved to be the difference.

In the seventh, with Teel occupying first base, Saucke, the only Cavalier with a multi-hit night (2 for 4), delivered a standup double, moving Teel to third with just one out. Anderson’s ensuing sac fly made it a 3-2 ballgame, but Spivey was able to fan Newell looking for the third out.

Brandon Neeck took over on the mound for the Hoos in the bottom of the seventh, and things got dicey in a hurry. Neeck walked the leadoff batter, Alec Makarewicz, in four pitches, before a ball got by Teel on the first pitch of the next at-bat, putting Makarewicz in scoring position with nobody out.

Ryder Giles bunted Makarewicz over to third for the first out, and then Agnos’ sac fly to center brought him around to score the insurance run.

On a bang-bang play that needed to be reviewed by the umpires, the Cavaliers got out of the inning with just one run’s worth of damage, but trailed by two heading into the eighth.

Alex Tappen, who doubled in the first inning, reached base on an error by Makarewicz with two outs in the eighth, but Jake Gelof, the man every Wahoo would have wanted at the plate in that situation, flied out to deep center — as two ECU outfielders nearly collided — to end the threat. Gelof finished the game 0 for 4 with a strikeout, and will have to wait at least one more day to try and break the school’s single-season RBI record.

Neeck was able to deliver a solid 1-2-3 frame to send it to the ninth, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

“I thought it was just overall a great college baseball game,” O’Connor said. “Unfortunately, there’s going to be a loser and we came out on the wrong end and that’s to credit East Carolina. They did a terrific job. Their starter (Mayhue) really did a nice job and it seemed like our guys just couldn’t get comfortable in the batter’s box against him.”

ECU’s pitchers limited UVA to six hits in the game.

“And then, wow, Agnos is just a great college player. To play shortstop and make the plays he made and then to come in and finish that game out, speaks to the kind of player he is and the character he has. He did a terrific job to be in that environment and the bases loaded and get two strikeouts at the end of the game was impressive.”

O’Connor said his team couldn’t get a big hit, leaving eight base runners stranded, but praised Gursky for settling down after ECU’s early two-run inning.

“You have a starter that goes out there and goes five-plus and gives up three runs in the NCAA tournament, that gives you a chance to win the game,” the UVA skipper said. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t do enough and that’s credit to [ECU’s] pitching and defense. We’ll have another opportunity Sunday and we’ve got to shake this one off and be ready to go.”

Box Score

Greenville Regional Bracket