Chris Newell’s season didn’t start the way he hoped. The star sophomore center fielder was 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts when he stepped into the batter’s box in the sixth inning of UVa’s Tuesday game against VMI.
With the bases loaded and facing a pitcher’s count, Newell uncorked all his frustration on the 0-2 pitch, blasting it over the center field wall for an emphatic grand slam.
“Same situation, two strikes, just tried to put my bat on the ball, honestly,” Newell said. “Happened to catch one. Definitely good to feel that again.”
The home run gave No. 12 Virginia a 12-3 lead after six frames, and the Cavaliers (3-1) went on to win 14-5. The 3-1 start is the program’s best four-game start since 2017.
VMI opened the scoring Tuesday, plating three runs in the second inning off sophomore left-hander Nate Savino. The talented pitcher allowed a home run to freshman catcher Justin Starke, who deposited a ball in UVa’s bullpen in right field.
After a two-out throwing error allowed the inning to continue, the Keydets plated two more runs on an RBI single from freshman outfielder Ty Swaim.
VMI’s 3-0 lead was short-lived, however.
UVa scored four runs in the bottom half of the second inning, led by a two-RBI double from senior outfielder Alex Tappen. He knocked the ball to right field, and VMI’s outfielders struggled to see the ball in the sun.
The Cavaliers added two more runs in the third inning, both on VMI miscues. The Keydets walked redshirt senior catcher Logan Michaels on a wild pitch and senior Brendan Rivoli came home to score.
Michaels subsequently stole second, and the throw sailed into center field. Michaels made his way to third base, rounded the corner as VMI slowly tossed the ball back into the infield and safely slid into home plate.
Savino’s day ended after three frames. He gave up three runs, two of which were unearned. Savino struck out five and tossed 71 pitches, taking him out of the game earlier than hoped. Junior Blake Bales, who pitched a scoreless fourth inning and recorded three strikeouts, earned the win.
Seven relievers pitched after Savino, allowing just two runs over six innings. None of the seven players threw more than 26 pitches, keeping them fresh heading into an important upcoming series.
“That was the plan, to not extend anybody out of our bullpen,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “We have enough guys down there that we knew we could chop it up with an inning per guy.”
The bullpen worked with a growing lead. A Nic Kent RBI double in the fifth inning put Virginia up 7-3, then a five-run sixth inning, powered by Newell’s grand slam, gave the Cavaliers a commanding 12-3 lead.
Junior infielder Zack Gelof joined the fun in the seventh inning, hammering a ball over the wall in left-center field. Gelof finished the day 3-for-5 with three runs scored and a pair of RBI. The Cavaliers added one final run in the eighth on an RBI groundout from sophomore infielder Max Cotier, who drove Newell home.
“It was nice to see our offensive club really come alive there today,” O’Connor said. “That was encouraging to see some of those guys take some pretty good passes and get some extra-base hits.”
The Keydets pushed two runs across in the final frame, making the final score less bleak.
Virginia begins ACC play Thursday against North Carolina. The two teams will play three games in Chapel Hill.