Christian Hlinka’s at-bat started with an attempted sacrifice bunt. It ended with the senior’s teammates mobbing him in center field to celebrate his walk-off double.
After failing to put down a sacrifice, Hlinka took a 3-2 offering and ripped it into the right-center field gap. Freshman Jake Gelof, who was running on the pitch after a lead-off walk, came flying around from first base to score, giving the Virginia baseball team a 5-4 walk-off win on Senior Day.
“It worked out,” Hlinka laughed.
The win completed a series sweep of Wake Forest. It’s the first sweep of the spring for Virginia (25-21, 16-17 ACC), and it pulls the Cavaliers within a game of a .500 ACC record with one weekend series remaining.
It also was an emotional day for Hlinka.
One of his closest friends, Sean Hanczaryk, died in a car crash in March. The DeSales University baseball player tragically missed out on his Senior Day. Hlinka honored his late friend Sunday, wearing an arm band with Hanczaryk’s initials and delivering the game-winning hit.
“That one was for Sean,” Hlinka said.
The three weekend wins help the Cavaliers as they fight for an NCAA Tournament berth, and way the team earned the sweep in the final home series of the spring was nothing short of electric.
Friday, Virginia won 17-0 behind an offensive explosion and a combined no-hitter. Saturday, Gelof delivered a walk-off single with the bases loaded for a 6-5 win. Sunday, Hlinka scored Gelof for an emotional walk-off triumph.
“I can’t even begin to mention how awesome it is,” sixth-year senior reliever Stephen Schoch said.
Virginia jumped all over the Demon Deacons in the third inning Sunday, scoring three runs. Nic Kent, Chris Newell and Gelof all recorded RBI in the frame, with Gelof using a double to drive in his run.
With a 3-0 lead, sophomore Nate Savino showed why he was such a highly touted prospect when he joined UVa. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning before facing only seven batters across the second and third innings.
Wake Forest started to generate a rally in the fourth inning thanks to three consecutive one-out singles. With one run scored and runners on first and second, freshman Pierce Bennett lifted a ball into the left-center field gap.
Bennett seemed destined for extra bases, but Newell made a diving catch to grab the ball just before it hit the turf. A groundout ended the threat, keeping UVa up 3-1 through four innings.
The Demon Deacons slowly chipped away at the lead after that.
A solo home run from freshman Brock Wilkin in the top of the fifth pulled Wake within a run. Wilkin demolished the ball over UVa’s bullpen in right field. Savino’s day was done after six frames. He allowed just two runs, giving him back-to-back quality starts on Sundays.
“The last couple weeks are the best that he’s pitched, and he’s pitched deep into the ball game and been efficient for us,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said.
Wilkin delivered the game-tying RBI in the seventh off reliever Matt Wyatt when he grounded out to shortstop with a runner on third base.
Wake Forest momentarily took the lead in the top of the eighth, using a double off Wyatt to start the frame. O’Connor put in Schoch, but the Demon Deacons were still able to push one run across in the frame on a sacrifice fly from freshman pinch hitter Adam Cecere.
Virginia kept fighting after losing the lead. Nic Kent delivered the game-tying, two-out RBI single to right field in the eighth inning.
Hlinka delivered the magic in the bottom of the ninth after Schoch worked out of a jam in the top of the inning.
“I knew I hit it where nobody was,” Hlinka said. “I got jammed on it a little bit. If I got the barrel out, it would’ve been off the scoreboard.”
The win moves UVa to 12-5 in the ACC in its past 17 conference games after the Wahoos started the season 4-12. A series win over Boston College would give the Cavaliers a .500 ACC record to end the regular season.
“I think it shows what they’re made of,” O’Connor said. “They didn’t quit. At the pivotal time where they needed to really step up and emerge, they stood up and they fought.”