COLUMBIA, S.C. — Matt Wyatt had a good feeling when Kyle Teel’s go-ahead grand slam left the bat.
“Watching a lot of his home runs, you can kind of tell,” Wyatt said. “When he hits it, he hits it.”
Teel caught all of a 2-2 breaking ball Monday afternoon in South Carolina. The ninth home run of his freshman season pulled Virginia ahead of Dallas Baptist 5-2 in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the Columbia Super Regional.
With Wyatt dealing on the mound, the three-run lead proved to be more than enough. The Cavaliers won 5-2 and punched their ticket to Omaha.
While Teel’s home run will be the play that lives in Virginia baseball history, there were plenty of other moments and reason why the Cavaliers’ season will continue in Omaha. Here are three takeaways from UVa’s super regional success.
Teel’s seventh-inning grand slam was just the latest example of a strong late-game performance by UVa.
The Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by 89 runs this season. In the first three innings of games, they’ve outscored foes by 18 runs. In the middle three innings, UVa’s run differential is +16. In the final three innings plus extra innings, Virginia has outscored its opponents by 55 runs.
Between an elite back end of the bullpen led by veteran relievers Blake Bales and Stephen Schoch, UVa has limited late-game runs. Offensively, the Cavaliers find ways to deliver in crunch time. That’s proved true in postseason action.
In eight postseason games, UVa has outscored opponents by 11 runs in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings. The Cavaliers used a late rally to beat Old Dominion in the final game of regional play, and then they took down Dallas Baptist in the super regional thanks to late-game heroics in Game 2 and Game 3.
“I told the team when we got off the bus before we walked into the stadium, I told them, ‘The calmer, more poised team will prevail,’” head coach Brian O’Connor said Monday.
Virginia remained poised despite staring elimination in the face. The Cavaliers outscored Dallas Baptist 8-0 in innings 7-9 in the two elimination games.
Elite stuff shines
Griff McGarry and Matt Wyatt entered postseason play with electric pitching ability. They throw fastballs in the upper 90s and their off-speed pitches easily fool batters.
A lack of consistency and command, however, had both guys pitching in limited roles late in the regular season. In the postseason, the Cavaliers have needed both pitchers to step up.
They’ve both delivered.
McGarry tossed seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the super regional, striking out 10. Wyatt relieved Nate Savino in Game 3 of the super regional, tossing 5 2/3 shutout innings and fanning eight.
“He did a super job,” DBU head coach Dan Heefner said. “We really have to tip our cap to Wyatt and the guy who started [Sunday], Griff, both of those guys, that’s elite stuff and they pounded the strike zone with it, too.”
Since the start of the NCAA Tournament, the duo has thrown 21 innings, allowing just three earned runs and striking out 34 batters. All 21 innings pitched have come in elimination games.
Virginia is 6-2 in the NCAA Tournament with a pair of losses in Andrew Abbott’s starts. That speaks to the depth of UVa’s pitching staff and the special efforts by McGarry and Wyatt.
Dallas Baptist a worthy adversary
Dallas Baptist is a mid-major program, but the Patriots have a proud baseball history, especially since Dan Heefner became the head coach ahead of the 2008 season.
Heefner has guided DBU to seven consecutive regional appearances, and this year marked the program’s second super regional appearance in program history. The Patriots came one game away from making their first trip to the College World Series.
“I do want to say that my heart aches for Dan Heefner, his staff and his players,” O’Connor said.
Virginia’s head coach believes the Patriots are close to a major breakthrough as a program. With several key returners expected next season, including leadoff hitter River Town and cleanup hitter Andrew Benefield, who hit the game-winning home run in the first game of the super regional, the Patriots should be a force yet again.
Dallas Baptist won Game 1 over Virginia and was tied or leading entering the seventh inning in both the Game 2 and Game 3 losses. The Patriots came painfully close to making it to Omaha.
“You’re that good for so long, I’m sure it’ll happen sometime when they least expect it,” O’Connor said. “They’ve been in many, many regionals and their time’s coming.”