Virginia’s bats silent as Cavaliers exit College World Series

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor has always believed that in order to advance in the NCAA tournament, players needed to elevate their game, to get those extra hits, extra RBI.

Coming into Omaha, Cavalier followers would have automatically assumed that would be the case because O’Connor’s Virginia team boasted the nation’s most lethal offense. UVA used offensive explosions to advance to the College World Series, but it seemed like the Wahoos forgot to pack their fireworks.

Virginia’s batters struggled to produce against the elite pitching from Florida and TCU and were a quick out from the Series, going Oh-for-2 after being declared by some betting organizations as one of the top favorites to win the whole thing.

“Our style is to put the pressure on the other team, but you’ve got to be able to get base runners on in order to do that,” O’Connor said after Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Big 12 champion TCU. “There were just too many innings that we just weren’t competitive and gave ourselves a chance.”

The major offensive shortcoming for the Cavaliers came in the heart of its lineup, where three of the nation’s most dangerous hitters have made a living this season. All-American Jake Gelof, UVA’s all-time home run king, followed by All-American catcher Kyle Teel, the ACC Player of the Year, followed by sensational and overshadowed Ethan Anderson, have been the closest thing to a Murderer’s Row that fans could have hoped for this season.

On Sunday, the three hitters were handcuffed for the most part, coming off a bad night against the Gators on Friday.

For the two-game appearance in Omaha, the threesome went a combined 2 for 21 at the plate. Gelof and Teel, two projected first-round picks in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft, were 0 for 14.

What were the odds of that?

“I’m disappointed for them that they didn’t get a chance to play deeper in this and for the two of them to really show their ability here in Omaha,” O’Connor said. “That said, the careers that those two guys had are right up there with some of the best that we’ve had in my tenure here.”

For those counting, that’s 20 years at the helm of UVA baseball, which has produced lots of Major League players over that span.

“Jake Gelof has broken so many offensive records, home run records, RBI records. We wouldn’t be sitting here today without him,” O’Connor said. “And Kyle Teel was just a really, really special, talented player. The results didn’t show these two games the impact that those two young men have had in our program and their entire careers, but especially this year.”

The UVA coach thought his team’s approach to facing TCU’s pitching just didn’t work. Sam Stoutenborough dominated the Cavaliers’ batting order with off-speed pitches.

O’Connor’s plan was for his hitters to knock the ball the other way, but as he said, instead hit too many ground balls, didn’t get quality swings in order to extend innings and put pressure on the Horned Frogs’ hurler.

“In one-run games it always comes down to a big pitch, a clutch hit maybe in the ninth to tie the game,” O’Connor said. “We had too many one-two-three innings offensively that we just weren’t competitive enough in our approach in those at-bats.”

Virginia had four innings where the Cavaliers went down in order, including three in a row: the second, third and fourth, in addition to the sixth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Teel struck out for the second time in the game to lead off, Anderson grounded out, before Casey Saucke singled to center and advanced to second. Anthony Stephan struck out to end the game.

“It comes down to those little fine details in Omaha,” O’Connor said. “Everybody has talent. Everybody earned the right to be here. It just comes down to guys rising up in key moments.”

O’Connor, who came under some criticism for how he handled his pitching changes in the one-run loss to Florida on Friday, made all the right moves against TCU, including showing confidence in reliever Jay Woolfolk, who came in for the ninth with one out and a runner on second and got the Horned Frogs out.

Still, Virginia’s bats couldn’t solve TCU’s pitching in a disappointing ending to one of the Cavaliers’ greatest seasons.