Virginia was one out away from a 4-3 win over William & Mary. The Cavaliers proceeded to show why head coach Brian O’Connor has gray hair.
O’Connor’s club allowed three, two-out runs in the top of the ninth. Needing a rally in the bottom of the inning, UVa shook off the top half of the inning and delivered.
The Cavaliers answered the Tribe with a two-RBI double from senior first baseman Devin Ortiz to send the game into extra innings tied at 6. In the bottom of the 12th, the Cavaliers loaded the bases with no outs and junior Zack Gelof delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly to deep center field.
“A team needs those kind of wins,” O’Connor said.
It was more stressful than it needed to be, but the Cavaliers won. UVa (14-14, 6-12 ACC) moved back to .500 with its 7-6 midweek triumph over William & Mary (6-14, 3-3 CAA). The Cavaliers have won three games in a row for the first time this spring, and they’ve won four of their last five contests.
“It wasn’t pretty, but [we] found a way to win the game,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully we can take that and continue good momentum.”
With the usually reliable Stephen Schoch entering the game in the ninth, UVa seemed destined to win 4-3 in nine innings. After the sixth-year senior closer recorded two quick outs, UVa seemed primed to win.
Three batters later, UVa trailed 6-4.
Schoch seemed to be in cruise control after recording two fly outs. Instead, William & Mary senior infielder Tyler Solomon smacked a ball to the right-center field gap for a double. Sophomore infielder Ben Williamson had two strikes in his at-bat before Schoch hit him on the hand, keeping the Tribe alive.
That set the table for senior infielder Matt McDermott. He ripped a 1-0 offering to right field as senior Alex Tappen drifted back. The ball hit the yellow padding on tip of the right-field wall, bouncing up and over the fence for a three-run home run.
McDermott made his way around the bases as the William & Mary dugout went wild. He paused a few feet from home plate, pointing to the sky before stomping on home plate.
“He’s been tough on us for two years,” O’Connor said. “He hit a home run last year. The guy’s aggressive. I love him.”
It was a jarring series of events for UVa, which controlled the game until the final frame.
The Cavaliers scored four runs in the first three innings to take a quick lead. UVa’s bats wasted little time giving the team a lead in the early innings as Gelof’s two-RBI single to left field in the second inning but the Cavaliers up 3-0 after two frames.
An RBI single from UVa sophomore Tate Ballestero had put the Cavaliers up 4-0.
The Tribe cut the deficit to 4-3 after five frames. Senior Blake Bales shut down William & Mary in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings before exiting the game for Schoch.
The graduate student rarely falters when given chances late in games, but he blew his first save of the season Tuesday. The Tribe were able to piece together a rally against the fiery closer, taking the two-run lead into the bottom half of the ninth.
That’s when the Cavaliers responded with a gut check.
“In that situation, they have all the momentum,” Ortiz said. “I think momentum in baseball is a huge thing. You could feel it in the dugout, like, ‘Man, they just really did that,’ but it’s about how we respond.”
After a Gelof foul out, Nic Kent walked. Brendan Rivoli followed with a single. With runners on first and second, Ortiz smoked a ball into left-center field. His double plated both runs, tying the game at 6.
“I think we responded really well today,” Ortiz said.
The game went to extra innings as UVa couldn’t drive Ortiz home to end the game in the ninth.
In the 12th, the Cavaliers staged the game-ending rally. Three walks brought Gelof to the plate with the bases juiced and no outs. William & Mary moved an outfielder to the infield, forcing Gelof to drive the ball over their heads to earn the win.
“It was actually pretty crazy,” Gelof joked. “I think there were like 10 infielders in the infield. It was definitely really weird when you have guys everywhere just staring at you, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess it’s gonna be hard to hit it through here.’”
Gelof “took the layup,” lifting a ball into center field for a walk-off sac fly, as UVa persevered for its 7-6 midweek win.
UVa travels to Clemson for a three-game series beginning Friday.