blue ridge bank

Wahoos bats come alive in 21-hit parade as UVA advances to Sunday regional game

By Jerry Ratcliffe

nate savino

Nate Savino. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Virginia’s bats came alive Saturday as the Cavaliers posted a program postseason record 21 hits in a 13-8 elimination game against Jacksonville in the NCAA Columbia regional.

The No. 3 regional seed Cavaliers (30-24) scored in seven of the eight innings, and put together a huge, five-run, sixth inning to take a commanding 11-7 lead and never looked back.

Kyle Teel and Zack Gelof (see related story on the Gelof brothers) produced four hits each, while Jake Gelof and Chris Newell homered late in the game to advance UVA into Sunday’s noon elimination game against the loser of Saturday night’s Old Dominion vs. South Carolina game.

While the Cavaliers went through two pitchers early, Nate Savino (3-3) settled things down, allowing one run and two hits in 4.3 innings to close out the win. UVA coach Brian O’Connor said he would have rather saved Savino for Sunday, but felt it was necessary in order to advance.

“I have no idea who we’re pitching [Sunday],” said O’Connor.

Mike Vasil started the game but gave us five runs and seven hits in two innings, followed by 2.1 innings from Kyle Whitten, who gave up two more runs as Virginia trailed 7-5.

The Cavaliers loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fifth as Jake Gelof doubled, Chris Newell walked and Zach Gelof reached on an infield hit before Max Cotier ripped a single that scored Gelof. Newell was called out at the plate on a close play that was reviewed by the umpires, who upheld the initial call as UVA drew within 7-6.

Savino retired the Dolphins in order in the top of the sixth before UVA’s bats delivered a barrage of hits.

Teel singled to center and stole second, before Devin Ortiz was walked. Both advanced on a wild pitch. Nick Kent singled to left, scoring Teel, while an error on the Jacksonville shortstop allowed Ortiz to score on the same play, putting UVA ahead 8-7 with no outs.

After the Dolphins made another pitching change, Jake Gelof slammed a two-run home run to left field for a 10-7 lead. It was Gelof’s second home run in two days and his third of the season, the first coming in the semifinals of the ACC tournament last weekend against Duke. Virginia added another run, on Max Cotier’s two-out single as the Cavaliers batted around in taking an 11-7 advantage in the seventh.

Jacksonville added a run in that inning, but that would be it as Savino slammed the door on the Dolphins, retiring them in order in both the eighth and ninth innings to close out the win.

Just for insurance, Newell, the only Cavalier without a hit coming into the eighth inning, delivered a mighty home run blast out of the park to right field. Zack Gelof later scored on Ortiz’ RBI single to left for the 13-8 lead.

O’Connor, who pointed out earlier in the week that to advance in regional play that his teams have always relied on multiple players getting multiple hits, was delighted with the offensive output.

“It was great to have the number of guys that had big days,” O’Connor said. “This is what you have to do when you fall into the loser’s bracket. The Gelofs and Ortiz, and so many guys had big, multi-hit days. That was huge for us.”

Still trailing 7-6 in that sixth inning, O’Connor pointed out how important was that Ortiz battled in his at-bat against Jacksonville reliever Christian Graham. Before drawing a walk, Ortiz kept fouling off pitches in a 12-pitch at-bat against Graham.

“I was so excited that [Ortiz] won that at-bat, and it fired me up for sure,” Teel said afterward. “I thought that was awesome. I think that fired the whole team up.”

O’Connor agreed.

“It started off 0-2 [pitch count], and Devin hasn’t been swinging the bat up to his standard,” the UVA skipper said. “That bat flipped the switch for him, personally, but also really ignited our team. When you have a teammate in there that’s fighting like that when your backs are against the wall in a must win game, you either win the game or your season is over. For him to battle like that and find a way to get on, you can really draw some momentum from it and we certainly did.”

Sacrificing Savino might not have been desirable to the coaching staff, but necessary.

“Obviously he’s been one of our starters all year, but if you don’t win today, you don’t have a chance tomorrow,” O’Connor said. “[Vasil] got knocked out early and we couldn’t hold them down. I just felt like it was an important part in the ballgame and we needed to stop momentum for them.

“I knew Savino would settle in and do a terrific job for us and it worked out that way so we didn’t have to use anybody else. You can’t worry about Monday until you get to Monday. You can’t worry about the second game tomorrow until you get to that point, and we needed to win today.”

The UVA skipper said he and his staff would discuss the pitching situation overnight, depending on whether the Cavaliers will face ODU or South Carolina.

Once the Cavaliers bats began to connect, it became infectious.

“We did a great job of swinging overall,” said Teel, a freshman. “Our backs were against the wall and we all knew that we had to win this game and that’s how it is from here on out. So we’re just going to keep fighting and play the best baseball we can.”

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