Virginia comes from behind again to win regional, moves to NCAA Super Regional

By Jerry Ratcliffe

uva odu celebration

Devin Ortiz is mobbed at the plate after his 10th inning walkoff homer. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Devin Ortiz started Virginia’s NCAA regional championship on the mound Tuesday morning and finished it in the afternoon with a 10th-inning walk-off home run that catapulted the Cavaliers into next weekend’s Super Regional with a 4-3 win over Old Dominion.

The senior right-hander was yet another secret weapon in Virginia’s pitching arsenal for the Columbia regional. Used mostly as a designated hitter throughout the back half of the season due to a shoulder injury on his non-throwing arm, Ortiz had pitched a collective two innings coming into Tuesday’s final.

Equipped with a nasty curveball, Ortiz pitched four scoreless innings, allowed one hit and struck out six against an ODU lineup that was considered one of the most dangerous in the country statistically.

Ortiz etched his name in Wahoo baseball history in the bottom of the 10th when he ripped a 1-1 Aaron Holiday pitch over the left field fence that set off a wild celebration by his teammates.

Virginia, now 33-24, has won 11 of its last 14 games, including four consecutive elimination games to earn the right to move on to Saturday’s best-of-three series against Dallas Baptist in the Cavaliers program’s seventh all-time Super Regional, which will also be played in Columbia, S.C.

“The growth and development of this team throughout the year is something that I will always cherish,” said UVA coach Brian’ O’Connor, in his 18th year as Cavaliers coach. “They’re learning the lessons of being on a team like this, and fighting, and having success and having their backs against the wall and everything they’ve experienced over the last two months.”

A preseason pick as high as No. 5 nationally, the Cavaliers stumbled out of the blocks to a 12-14 record overall and 4-12 in the ACC before a memorable team meeting at Georgia Tech before Virginia swept the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in early April.

Ortiz, who was the regional’s Most Outstanding Player, was the difference for the Cavaliers as he posted a .333 average (7-for-21), including the first walk-off homer in Virginia postseason history. The senior had a team-high six RBI over the five games, two home runs and a double.

None were more important than his eighth roundtripper of the season (ties for the UVA team lead).

ODU, the region’s top seed, had come back from a 2-1 deficit in the top of the eighth to take the lead against reliever Stephen Schoch. The Monarchs tied it on an RBI single by Brock Gagliardi, then went ahead 3-2 on a single by Tommy Bell. Gagliardi was thrown out at the plate on a throw by Kyle Teel that ended the threat.

Virginia knotted it at 3-3 on a wild sequence when Zack Gelof reached on a walk, advanced on a Teel hit to left. Both runners advanced on the first of back-to-back wild pitches by ODU’s closer Noah Dean. The second wild pitch sailed over the catcher’s head, allowing Gelof to score and knot the game.

With Schoch settling down, the hefty right-hander handcuffed ODU in the ninth and 10th innings, finishing his job with 48 strikes out of 75 pitches thrown. The emotional Schoch punched his own head in frustration after he hit ODU’s Kyle Battle, the only Monarch to reach base the final two innings.

That set the stage for Ortiz’ heroics as he blasted a shot to left, the first walk-off home run by a UVA player in more than eight years.

“Holy crap,” Ortiz told ESPN’s crew after the homer. “This is something you dream about when you’re a little kid.”

While explaining that he wanted to go at least four innings as UVA’s starting pitcher, and that he was looking for a fastball on his heroic homer, Ortiz was suddenly surrounded by the celebration, including a Gatorade bath from his teammates on live television.

“That’s awesome man, I love these guys,” said a drenched Ortiz.

It was quite a battle for the Cavaliers, who had defeated ODU on Sunday night, only to watch their rematch for the championship scheduled for Monday, get rained out.

The Monarchs were in good shape pitching-wise, having saved their ace and their closer for the occasion. Virginia, on the other hand, was helped by the rainout, giving its staff another day of recovery.

ODU starter Hunter Gregory mastered UVA’s batting order early in the game, mowing down the first 16 Cavaliers he faced. How quickly things changed.

Gregory’s perfect game was broken up with one out in the bottom of the sixth when Virginia catcher Logan Michaels blasted a double to left. Not only was Gregory’s perfect game gone, but so was he as ODU went to its top reliever, Jason Hartline at that point.

While Virginia didn’t score, it did chase the Monarch’s ace.

Schock entered with two outs in the top of the seventh, and got the third by picking off Bell’s attempt to steal third.

Virginia jumped in front in the bottom of the inning after Max Cotier walkled and scored on Teel’s hit, making it 1-1, and Teel later made it 2-1 on a controversial play that was overturned by the umpiring crew.

Initially Nic Kent hit into a double play and was ruled out at first. A replay reversed the decision, and Kent was safe. It kept Teel alive on base as he scored on an Alex Tappen single for the lead.

Ortiz, making the first start of his career, gave up only one hit and struck out six Monarchs over four innings.

As improbable as Virginia’s comeback was after losing to host South Carolina in Friday’s opening game of the regional, the Cavaliers advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time since capturing the College World Series in 2015.

“They’re all special,” O’Connor said. “This one’s just incredibly special.”

The coach had talked to his team earlier about UVA’s past regional success and the great moments it required to get there.

“Nothing was like this, right?” O’Connor said after Tuesday’s win. “We had never taken this path. We’ll store this one in the archives for future teams. So the next three days or so, I’ll be sharing with them how we’ve navigated our patch in different Super Regionals to get to Omaha. I look forward to sharing those memories.”

Game Notes

  • The Cavaliers had one baserunner over the first six innings and nine reach base safely over their final three trips to the plate.
  • Five different Cavaliers were responsible for the seven UVA homers in the Columbia Regional.
  • Teel recorded his second outfield assist of the season by cutting down a runner at home to end the top the eighth inning and keep it a one-run game.
    • Four Virginia pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts, the fourth time in five regional games UVA has struck out 10 batters or more. In two games against ODU, UVA pitchers struck out 39 batters, including a school record 24 on Monday.
  • The Cavaliers have won six-straight games against ODU dating back to 2016.
  • The last UVA walk-off home run was hit by Kenny Towns in the 2013 ACC Tournament against Florida State.

All-Columbia Regional Team

C: Logan Michaels (UVA) 

1B: Jake Gelof (UVA)

2B: Carter Trice (ODU)

SS: Nic Kent (UVA) 

3B: Zack Gelof (UVA)

OF: Kyle Teel (UVA) 

OF: Elias Flowers (JU)

OF: Kyle Battle (ODU)

DH: Devin Ortiz (UVA)

P: Brandon Neeck (UVA)

P: Ryne Moore (ODU)

Most Outstanding Player: Devin Ortiz (UVA)