He’s provided Virginia some of the most memorable swings in program history over the last few seasons.
In April, Devin Ortiz’s walk-off grand slam — a barely-fair, down-the-left-field-line blast into the Disharoon Park bleachers — capped a seven-run, 10th-inning rally to stun North Carolina in the middle game of UVa’s sweep of the Tar Heels.
And last year when it mattered most in the Columbia Regional final, Ortiz belted a 10th-inning, walk-off homer to break a tie, beat Old Dominion and send the Cavaliers to the Super Regionals.
Ortiz and the second-seeded Hoos are back in the postseason again and preparing for their Friday regional opener against No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina at the Greenville Regional. With the drama-filled playoff here, the fifth-year senior is absorbing all what’s left of his career and seeking to elongate it as deep into this tournament as possible.
“I’ve just been trying to soak it in,” Ortiz said. “Every moment I can, I just look around and take it all in as much as I can now that the regular season is over, the postseason is here and we’re going down to ECU. It’s like every moment from waking up in the morning to the hotel to batting practice and everything to the end of the game and win or lose, I’m trying to soak it all in.”
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Top seed and host East Carolina as well as fourth-seeded Coppin State are also in the pod that’ll battle at Clark-LeClair Stadium over the weekend. ECU and Coppin State start regional action with a 1 p.m. contest on Friday and then the Cavaliers and Chanticleers follow with a 6 p.m. first pitch.
Ortiz, of course, can impact UVa in a variety of ways, but two attributes in particular might just help him help himself to aid the Hoos through the regional round and extend his career for at least another weekend.
Having filled a meaningful role a year ago in the program’s run to the College World Series, Ortiz has experience that some of UVa’s lineup — one that starts three freshmen regularly — doesn’t.
“I’ve been here five years, and yeah, I have experience, and it’s only one year of regional experience,” he said, “but even that can go a long, long way because going into South Carolina last year, it was foreign and new for everyone. But you look at ECU now, and I’m pretty confident they’ll have the same atmosphere that South Carolina did.”
Ortiz said it’s on him, senior outfielder Alex Tappen and senior reliever Paul Kosanovich to lead the Cavaliers’ youthful group during this double-elimination round.
“It’s about guiding them in the right direction if they’re sporadic or a little nervous,” Ortiz said. “And they should be. That’s butterflies, nerves and everything all combined into one, but it’s a matter of being happy, having fun and playing baseball. The environment is different, but at the end of the day, it’s the same game.”
Additionally, the two-way ability Ortiz has in his arsenal could be a factor. Before smacking that walk-off long ball against ODU last year, he started the contest on the mound and threw four scoreless innings while striking out six.
He hasn’t pitched this season since April 6, but is available to pitch in the regional, according to Cavaliers skipper Brian O’Connor.
“I think it’ll be limited this weekend,” O’Connor said, “but it’s always an option and he wants to do it and is doing everything he can to prepare himself.”
Ortiz was extremely reliable as a mid-week starter and weekend bullpen arm earlier this spring, posting a 5-1 record to go along with a 2.03 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 26.2 innings. He was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Week twice in March, but then was unavailable as a pitcher after that April 6 outing.
He said he’s thrown twice for an inning in scrimmages over the last two weeks, though.
“I feel great. My arm feels great,” Ortiz said. “If [O’Connor] and [pitching coach] Drew [Dickinson] need me to pitch, I’m definitely available.”
If not, Ortiz is thrilled to play first base — something he didn’t get to do in the Columbia Regional since an injury forced him off the position late in the 2021 season. He served as the team’s designated hitter through the end of the campaign.
But he has handled every-day first base duties this year, and has enjoyed the action there whether it’s fielding his position or interacting with those not in the orange-and-blue that he may encounter.
And Friday’s bout with Coastal Carolina will pit Ortiz against one of his childhood buddies, Chanticleers infielder Matt McDermott. Ortiz and McDermott grew up together in northern New Jersey, played travel ball with each other and high school ball against each other.
Ortiz could find himself pitching against McDermott or chatting up McDermott near first base should he single or walk his way on.
“It’d be like old days,” Ortiz said. “And it’s funny we were texting during the conference tournaments that, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if we get the same draw and go to the same place?’ And once it was released that we’d face Coastal, he immediately texted me.”
Ortiz said that was something that excited him as the 64-team field was unveiled on Monday. The other was the chance to play at ECU, where the Pirates are well-known to draw strong, lively home crowds.
“And playing in the field it’s a little different and there’s more responsibility,” Ortiz said, “so it’ll be fun being out there and hearing all the heckling. Their atmosphere is great and we know we’ll be in for it with the fans, but that’s what makes it fun and you can’t get mad at that stuff and you just got to smile about it.”