COLUMBIA, S.C. — Virginia asked Devin Ortiz to start Tuesday’s Columbia Regional championship game against Old Dominion.
Ortiz obliged, throwing four shutout innings in the first start of his college career. The two-way player didn’t just start the game for UVa.
He finished it, too.
“Something like today is something you dream about,” Ortiz said.
The senior came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning with one out and nobody on base. He took a 1-1 pitch and launched it to deep left field. He knew it was gone.
Ortiz turned to the first-base dugout, screaming to his teammates before he reached first base. He eventually rounded the bases, touched home plate and was mobbed by his teammates.
“In my past home runs, I usually run hard out of the box because I never really know but this one, it felt really good, and immediately I knew it was gonna go out,” Ortiz said.
Thanks to Ortiz’s walk-off home run and his impressive outing on the mound, the Virginia baseball team defeated in-state foe Old Dominion 4-3 in 10 innings to win the Columbia Regional.
The Cavaliers, the No. 3 seed in Columbia, become the fourth team since 1999 to be seeded third or fourth in a regional, lose their first regional game and still advance to a Super Regional. LSU, led by Brian O’Connor’s mentor, Paul Mainieri, accomplished the same feat Monday night.
Next weekend will mark UVa’s first Super Regional appearance since winning the national championship in 2015.
UVa will stay in Columbia to play Dallas Baptist. The unseeded Patriots won the Fort Worth Regional to punch their ticket to the Super Regionals. The Columbia Super Regional will begin Saturday at noon.
Old Dominion looked strong early in Tuesday’s contest as Hunter Gregory pounded the zone. The junior right-hander was perfect through five innings.
Gregory had only pitched an inning in the regional prior to Tuesday. He started Friday’s regional opener against Jacksonville but took a comebacker to the leg and left the game. Healthy and rested, he dominated the Cavaliers.
“I tip my cap to the kid,” O’Connor said.
UVa didn’t have the option of starting its ace, but the Cavaliers received a gem from Ortiz. Despite only pitching two innings this spring, UVa’s usual first baseman and designated hitter rose to the occasion Tuesday.
Ortiz tossed four shutout innings, striking out a career-high six batters. He gave up one hit and a pair of walks. Ortiz struck out the side in the second inning and worked out of a jam in the third.
Interestingly, the plan to use Ortiz on the mound had been in the works for weeks. Since suffering a left shoulder injury, the Cavaliers moved Ortiz away from first base and solely to designated hitter. O’Connor and pitching coach Drew Dickinson also wanted Ortiz ready for a potential loser’s bracket run and had been using him as a pitcher during midweek scrimmages.
“Last Tuesday, he was scheduled to throw two innings in our scrimmage and he was throwing so well that coach Drew and I talked about extending him to a third inning,” O’Connor said. “And our conversation was, as God is my witness, that, ‘Hey, if we fall in the loser’s bracket of this tournament. Devin Ortiz is gonna start, and we’re gonna need him to go four or five innings.’”
The Monarchs broke the scoreless tie in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of a defensive miscue. An error by second baseman Max Cotier helped the Monarchs put Carter Trice on second with one out. UVa brought in lefty ace Andrew Abbott for Zach Messinger in hopes of ending the frame.
Trice stole third, and catcher Brock Gagliardi singled through the left side of the infield. UVa’s defense was playing a shift on the left-handed hitter, leaving a giant hole between second and third base. Gagliardi found the opening.
Trailing 1-0, and still without a baserunner, UVa’s offense started to come to life in the sixth inning.
Logan Michaels broke up Gregory’s perfect game with one out. While the Cavaliers couldn’t get Michaels across home plate — Zack Gelof struck out with Michaels on third and two outs — the hit made ODU go to its bullpen.
Virginia found success off junior lefty Jason Hartline, who entered the game with a sub-1.60 ERA.
The Cavaliers used a walk and two singles to load the bases. Junior Nic Kent grounded into a fielder’s choice to tie the game.
Senior Alex Tappen came up next with runners on the corners and delivered a single through the left side of the infield to give UVa a 2-1 lead after seven innings.
With closer Stephen Schoch on the mound — he entered with two outs in the seventh — and a 2-1 lead, the Cavaliers felt confident.
Old Dominion’s stellar lineup wasn’t done scoring, though.
The Monarchs used two walks and a two-out game-tying single from Gagliardi to pull even. After an error from Cotier at second loaded the bases, Tommy Bell delivered an RBI single to right field to give the Monarchs a 3-2 lead.
Fortunately for UVa, Kyle Teel threw a dart home to record an out at the plate and prevent two runs from scoring.
“I yelled in the dugout and said, ‘Hey, this is why you’re the home team. We got a shot. When you’re the home team, you got a chance,’” O’Connor said.
O’Connor wasn’t surprised to see his freshman throw a strike to home. Sunday night at the team dinner, Teel told O’Connor he could pitch in the final game of the regional if need be. O’Connor didn’t give the utility player a shot on the mound, but Teel showed off his arm in Tuesday’s win.
Teel played an important role in the bottom of the eighth, when the Wahoos tied the game. His single with two outs advanced Zack Gelof to second base. Two wild pitches from reliever Noah Dean later, and UVa tied the game at 3.
ODU avoided disaster as reliever Aaron Holiday forced Alex Tappen to pop out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Neither team scored in the ninth, and the regional that needed an extra day due to rain also needed extra innings to determine a winner.
After a 1-2-3 frame from Schoch, who tossed 75 pitches in 3 1/3 innings of relief, Ortiz came to the plate with one out.
The senior ensured his earlier pitching performance wouldn’t go to waste.
“This is what I came here to do,” Ortiz said. “I wanted to come to Virginia. I wanted to play in these big situations, and I wanted to help my team win.”