GREENVILLE, N.C. — The way in which Virginia started Sunday followed the formula that catapulted the program earlier in the campaign to as high as No. 3 nationally and to believe in itself that a deep run come June was possible.
Slugging sophomore third baseman Jake Gelof showed off his power. Veteran left fielder Alex Tappen displayed the consistency he’s swung the bat with throughout his fifth and final year with the Cavaliers, and left-handed starter Jake Berry mixed his pitches well enough to keep Coastal Carolina hitters off-balance and off the board as the Hoos built a six-run advantage through visiting half of the fifth inning.
“We did a great job against their starter,” Cavaliers 19th-year skipper Brian O’Connor said. “We did a terrific job and took a 6-0 lead, and Berry was pitching great.”
But it was all for naught in the elimination bout at the Greenville Regional that abruptly halted UVa’s 2022 season.
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The third-seeded Chanticleers scored three in the home fifth, evened the score with three more in the sixth and then walked off with a victory in the ninth on Chris Rowan Jr.’s RBI single to complete the comeback and stun the No. 2 seed Cavaliers, 7-6, who dropped their second consecutive heartbreaker in less than 24 hours.
Coastal Carolina advanced to play in the Greenville Regional championship later Sunday against top-seed and host East Carolina, which knocked off UVa the night before in a nail-biting battle that the Cavaliers loaded the bases in the ninth during but couldn’t get the big hit and fell 4-2.
“It’s definitely emotional,” Tappen said as tears rolled down his face during the moments after the last of his 218 games in a Virginia uniform. “You never envision a season ending on a loss, but that’s the reality for most college baseball players, but I wouldn’t replace this year for anything.”
“It hurts when you don’t win,” O’Connor said. “But as the leader of the program and for people who understand baseball, you really go back and dissect it and I thought we played really good baseball. … So, I’m proud of our guys and walk out of here continued to be proud of our program.”
The winning run Sunday came against UVa reliever Matt Wyatt (0-2), who gave his offense two chances to go ahead by inducing an inning-ending double play in the seventh and working a scoreless eighth. But the Cavaliers went down in order in the eighth and couldn’t scratch across a run in the ninth after Griff O’Ferrall opened the frame with a base hit and Gelof was walked intentionally.
UVa failed to score in its final four turns at the plate, which was a drastic turn after appearing as if it would slug its way to a rematch tilt against the Pirates.
Gelof crushed two homers — a two-run shot in the third to extend UVa’s early lead to 3-0 and a three-run blast in the fifth to push it to 6-0 — and those were the kind of long balls that were hit so far opposing left fielder Nick Lucky didn’t even move. He could only stand still and admire the majestic path the ball took from Gelof’s bat beyond The Jungle and bouncing onto Charles Boulevard, the road the sits well beyond the left-field wall.
“He’s the real deal,” longtime Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore said of Gelof. “He’s one of the best players in the country. I told him after the game that I look forward to watching him play where a whole lot of people will pay money to watch him play.”
The two homers gave Gelof 21 for the year and a program-record 81 RBI. The two round-trippers — both coming against Coastal starter Michael Knorr, a top 175 MLB Draft prospect by MLB.com — also tied the UVa record for the most homers in a postseason game.
Gelof had five multi-homer performances through the season, another UVa record.
“I was struggling to find barrels the first couple of games [in Greenville],” Gelof said. “But some things fell my way early in the regional, but I stayed within myself and talked with some of our coaches and players to try to find barrels and make adjustments within the game. And I just thought I made a good adjustment from my first at bat today to my next two.”
Tappen, who was 4-for-5 against Coastal on Sunday and 7-for-13 throughout the regional, singled in front of Gelof before his home runs. Tappen drove in the game’s first run, too, with an RBI single to right.
Berry tossed four scoreless innings before finding trouble in the fifth when the game began to unravel. Berry and reliever Dylan Bowers combined for four walks and one hit by pitch in the frame that allowed the Chanticleers to plate three.
Coastal scored three runs against Berry before slugging a pair of long balls against reliever Paul Kosanovich in the sixth to tie the contest. Graham Brown evened the score with a no-doubt two-run shot.
“When it gets to championship time,” O’Connor said, “it’s a big, clutch hit or a home run or something like that to get you to move onto the title game, and that’s what East Carolina did last night and what Coastal did today. We didn’t.”
Said Tappen before his voice trailed off: “To get the extra year, the COVID year and to be able to spend one more year in this uniform with these guys, it’s been amazing.”