Unopportunistic Virginia ousted from CWS by FSU

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor said his Virginia lineup simply wasn’t opportunistic enough in Sunday’s 7-3 loss to Florida State, which eliminated the Cavaliers from the College World Series after only two games for the second consecutive year.

UVA, which came to Omaha with the nation’s second-highest team batting average, actually out-hit FSU 10-7, but the Cavaliers could muster only one extra-base hit (a second-inning double by Henry Didawick) and couldn’t put together a big inning for the second game in a row.

“The game came down to, [the Seminoles] were very, very opportunistic,” O’Connor said. “To win in Omaha, it’s individual moments, individual players that rise up. Their left fielder certainly put two good swings on the ball and they capitalized in the inning where they scored four runs. There were two outs, nobody on, and we didn’t make a catch in right field. They opened it up and were very opportunistic.”

O’Connor was referring to Florida State’s Jaime Ferrer, who led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run to left field, then blew the game open an inning later when he blasted a three-run shot (also to left) with two outs, increasing the ‘Noles lead to 6-0. Ferrer, who also homered against Tennessee in a CWS opening-round loss, is the first player to post back-to-back, 4-RBI games since Southern Cal’s Robert Gorr in 1998.

“We had our chances to capitalize and didn’t capitalize on it enough,” O’Connor said.

The UVA skipper was right. In the two CWS losses (only the second time this season the Cavaliers lost back-to-back games), Virginia was a combined 4 for 23 with runners in scoring position, plus left a total of 19 runners stranded.

O’Connor kept going back to his team not taking advantage of situations.

“Ten runners on base, a couple of base-running mistakes that you can’t do at this level, that gets exposed,” the coach said. “You need somebody to step up and hit a two- or three-run home run. We just didn’t get that or that big double to drive in two runs, whether it be the North Carolina game or this game.”

This was Virginia’s seventh trip to Omaha under O’Connor, the third in the last four years. The Cavaliers won the national championship in 2015, so the coach knows what it takes to win on this level, and this time around the chemistry just wasn’t quite to that point.

What is it going to require for Virginia to avoid these early eliminations and make a deeper run in the CWS?

“We haven’t the last two years and that’s frustrating, disappointing,” O’Connor said. “Nobody likes to go two-and-out. Last year we lost two one-run ball games. Had a one-run ball game this year. It’s just being a little bit better, having some guys that when we’ve won in the past, we’ve had really, really elite pitching and always have played great defense.

“So it’s to get a little bit better on the mound and finishing innings off on the mound, and we’ve got to get some position players the next time we come here that really step up and have big days. We just didn’t have enough of it today.”

O’Connor said his program is really close, but needs to get one-percent better, and “we weren’t that this weekend.”

Starting pitcher Jay Woolfolk, who had pitched superbly in his previous two postseason starts, appeared to be off to another solid performance until the fourth inning. Delivering a pitch that Ferrer drilled into the left-field seats, Woolfolk’s right knee seemed to give way, nearly bringing the pitcher to the ground.

Woolfolk was limping around, bringing out the coaches and trainers to the mound to check him out. The junior right-hander attempted to stay in the game and pitched to the next two batters (one flew out to left and he walked another) before it was obvious that something was wrong.

Woolfolk gave way to Joe Savino.

“Just a freak accident, I guess,” Woolfolk said in the postgame. “I felt fine, feel great now. Just something that happened and I really don’t know how to explain it.

“I’m sorry, it sucks that’s the way to end your season. It’s the last time I pitched. And Omaha. I couldn’t tell you what really happened. I wish I could have kept going.”

Woolfolk noted that he faced six batters the first two innings, got them all out and felt great.

“I felt like I commanded every single pitch at will,” he said. “Whatever happened, happened, and I felt like I could have kept going, but I guess it had something to do with it. Coach O was ready to do what’s best for the team.”