DURHAM, N.C. - Virginia must have used up all its comeback mojo in Illinois on Tuesday, left it all on the courts when the Cavaliers’ tennis team stormed back to win its first NCAA Championship.
No such rally was in the cards for coach Brian O’Connor’s fifth-ranked baseball team in the opening round of Wednesday’s ACC Baseball Championships. What the Wahoos would have given for a lucky horseshoe or maybe just an error-free game.
Rally caps, schmally caps. This one was over before the fat lady sang and there wasn’t a thing that Virginia, the No. 3 seed in this event, could do about it.
Crusty old rival Virginia Tech jumped on the Cavaliers early, stepped on their throats and never relented in a 10-1 rout that nearly invoked the ACC’s postseason slaughter rule. The Hokies may be considered the state’s redheaded stepchild compared to the more successful Wahoos, but at last count, Tech has owned UVa on the diamond this season, taking three of four.
The Cavaliers were their own worst enemy early, failing to convert two routine plays and paying dearly for the mistakes. Tech’s Tyler Horan should have been thrown out when he stretched a bloop single to left into a double, but he evaded a simple tag and was safe at second.
While that play wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t as disastrous as the next when Cavalier shortstop Nick Howard’s throw to first on a simple grounder sailed over first baseman Jared King’s outstretched arms and into the Hokies’ dugout. It was Howard’s 16th error of the season.
When you heard O’Connor’s explanation later that Tech took advantage of its opportunities, he must have been referring to this six-run, second inning that blew the contest open. After the two fielding miscues, Tech doubled to right, followed by a ground rule double down the first base line and viola, the Hokies were up 4-0.
Two outs later, Tech shortstop Chad Pinder blasted a two-run shot over the towering left-field wall and off the roof of the Tobacco Road restaurant that overlooks the stadium. Six to zip.
While Hokie bats were lighting up four Wahoo pitchers, Tech lefty Joe Mantiply handcuffed Virginia’s batting order until handing it over to his bullpen after seven innings.
Tech officially made it a blowout in the sixth on another blast by Pinder, who belted the first grand slam home run by a Hokie since 2011. The nine-run loss was Virginia’s largest margin of defeat this season and left O’Connor a bit agitated.
When asked if it was disturbing that Virginia Tech had essentially owned his club this season, the UVa skipper didn’t hold back.
“I could care less about that. It’s a pretty stupid question to be honest with you,” O’Connor snapped at one scribe. “I look at our season and we’re 45-10, won more conference games than anybody in this league.
“It doesn’t matter that it’s Virginia Tech,” O’Connor said. “That’s for you guys to write about, our rivalry. They beat us three times this year. It doesn’t matter if it’s them or somebody else in this conference. It’s nothing that they’re doing. They played good baseball against us and that’s it.”
Still, even with a comfortable lead, Hokies coach Pete Hughes said he never stopped sweating.
Everyone in a Tech uniform knew about Virginia’s comeback power, how the Cavaliers had recorded 19 comebacks this season, particularly late rallies.
“They know how to win and they know how to win late,” Hughes said of his rivals. “Really, no lead is safe against that team.”
Well, maybe on most occasions, but not this one. This time, the mojo was missing. This time, the Cavaliers couldn’t conjur up the timely hits.
This time the Cavaliers were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Virginia left 11 baserunners stranded.
Give the Wahoos credit. They didn’t make excuses, they gave their rivals their dues.
“No, I don’t think so,” UVa’s Jared King said when asked if his team was flat, already knowing it has an NCAA bid and likely a top eight seed already secured. “We’re going to try and win every game. Competing for the ACC Championship prepares us for the NCAA regionals.”
While the Cavaliers have a couple of ACC titles under their belts, they haven’t fared so well over the past year. Last May, they were eliminated on Saturday when Georgia Tech pounded them so solidly that the 10-run rule was enforced.
O’Connor said that he felt all year that this was the best offensive squad Virginia Tech has fielded during his 10 years in the ACC.
The Hokies confirmed his belief with 13 hits. Every Tech hitter reached base at least once in the first three innings and all but one Tech starter got at least one hit.
O’Connor’s post-game mission was to challenge his players to perform the way they have all season long. This team has exhibited a penchant for bouncing back from adversity, bouncing back from losses.
The skipper even pointed out that his team has responded all year long and that’s what he’s expecting this morning against Georgia Tech, a 4-3 winner over Florida State in Wednesday’s first round.
Virginia may be young and shy on postseason experience at a lot of spots, but it’s that time of year now. Not bouncing back means going home.