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Virginia eliminates South Carolina, advances to Sunday night game vs Old Dominion

By Jerry Ratcliffe

matt wyant

Matt Wyant. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Virginia jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and held off a late South Carolina rally to eliminate the Gamecocks, 3-2, Sunday afternoon and advanced to tonight’s game against unbeaten Old Dominion in the NCAA Columbia regional.

The Cavaliers led 1-0 when Max Cotier walked, advanced to third on a Kyle Teel single and scored on a Devin Ortiz single to left in the bottom of the first. Alex Tappen ripped his fourth home run of the season to left field in the second inning for a 2-0 UVA advantage.

Virginia, which scored in all but one inning in Saturday’s win over Jacksonville, scored in the first three innings in the rematch against South Carolina, when Nic Kent’s double to left scored Teel, who had reached on a double for a 3-0 Cavaliers lead.

Kent’s double knocked Gamecocks starter Brannon Jordan out of the game.

Meanwhile, Virginia got a strong performance out of sophomore right-hander Matt Wyatt, who pitched deeper than he ever has for the Cavaliers, shutting out a potent South Carolina batting order through five innings.

“Matt has elite stuff,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor said. “Guys that end up being great, there’s a game that they step forward and emerge, whether that be a pitcher or a position player, and that was Matt’s opportunity. He stepped up for his team, and I know he’s going to be able to use this as positive momentum for the rest of his career.”

Wyatt gave way to reliever Blake Bales, who faced only two batters (a strike out and a walk) before he removed himself from the game. After the walk, Bales pointed to his pitching arm and had to leave the game in pain, obviously frustrated that he couldn’t continue.

Alex Messinger replaced Bales and gave up a single before South Carolina’s power hitter Wes Clarke, the nation’s home run leader, grounded out, scoring Allen to get the Gamecocks on the board.

South Carolina, which had edged UVA 4-3 in Friday’s opener, drew closer in the top of the seventh when Brennan Milone blasted a lead off solo homer to left, making it 3-2. The next two Gamecocks delivered hits with no outs before the Cavaliers turned an unusual double play. Messinger bobbled a line drive, but kept his composure, got the force out at third to start the double play.

With two outs, O’Connor went to closer Stephen Schoch, a sidewinder righty, who slammed the door shut on host South Carolina.

Schoch struck out Allen to end the seventh and preserved Virginia’s win, striking out four of the next seven batters. In usual Schoch style, he threw his glove skyward in celebration and emotionally hugged teammates as the Cavaliers moved on to ODU.

While Wyatt delivered an impressive performance, Schoch finished the job, striking out five of the eight batters he faced in 37 pitches over 2.1 innings, issuing one walk and no hits.

“I knew [South Carolina’s] starter was good and we’d have to play great baseball and it just happened to work out that we did,” O’Connor said. “We scored runs in the first three innings and fortunately it was enough to hold on.

“We knew we would have to chase their starter in the first half of the game because they’ve got some pretty special arms in that bullpen. Fortunately, we just hung on and did just enough. This time of the year, you’ve got to be good but you have to have a little bit of good fortune and that was what happened .”

O’Connor was referring to Messinger getting out of the jam with the double play that prevented the Gamecocks from a potential big inning.

Wyatt, making only the fourth start of his career, didn’t learn of his starting assignment until Saturday night.

“Kind of short notice but I’m just glad I got the opportunity to pitch for us,” Wyatt said. “I felt pretty good in warmups, so, say from pitch one, I found the zone pretty quickly.”

Virginia moves on to Sunday night’s game against No. 1 regional seed Old Dominion. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN3/the ESPN app.

ODU narrowly defeated Jacksonville on Friday night, then edged South Carolina on Saturday night to advance to the region finals.

Griff McGarry will get the pitching start for the Cavaliers, his first appearance in the regional.

“We’ll see where we go from there,” O’Connor said. “We still have plenty enough arms to run out there.”

O’Connor praised ODU, a team Virginia was scheduled to play during the regular season, but the game was rained out.

“Watching [ODU] play the last two games, watching them play on video coming into this tournament, they have great arms, guys as good as we’ve seen all year,” O’Connor said. “Their offense is as balanced and full of power and different ways they can beat you as you will play. McGarry is going to have to be the best he’s been and we’ve got confidence that he will.”

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