DURHAM, N.C. — It was far from a routine sequence, but it was a playable ball all the same.
It was the top of the fifth inning Thursday in Virginia’s ACC Tournament game against Miami, the result of which could very well determine the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament fate.
Hurricanes designated hitter JP Gates pulled a line drive down the first base line, prompting Nate Eikhoff to shift inches to his left. The senior put his glove down. He waited.
And then — disaster.
Two runs scored as Eikhoff chased after the ball, which bounced off his glove and scooted into right field. The two-out error pushed right-hander Noah Murdock from the game and put the Cavaliers in a hole from which they couldn’t escape. Virginia added a run in the sixth but it wasn’t enough and the Hurricanes won, 10-3.
“I don’t think it’s good to look beyond what’s in front of you,” said designated hitter Jack Weiller, who went 2-for-4 with two RBI. “Especially now, at the end of the year, with the [NCAA] Tournament around the corner. I think it’s important for us to look at each game one a time. Been preaching that all year. Unfortunately, today it didn’t work out.”
No. 4-seed Miami will play No. 5-seed North Carolina on Friday in a game that will determine the winner of Pool D. The No. 9-seed Cavaliers will return home to Charlottesville and try not to think too hard about the May 27 NCAA Tournament selection show.
It won’t be easy.
A win over Miami would’ve done much to quell Virginia’s fears of missing out on the tournament for the second year in a row.
Not that there weren’t opportunities for the Cavaliers on Thursday, much like there were in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Tar Heels, when right-hander Devin Ortiz hit a batter with the bases loaded in the 10th inning.
The Hurricanes jumped on Murdock for two runs in the first inning, but the Cavaliers got two back in the bottom of the frame thanks to a single from second baseman Nic Kent and a double from Weiller.
Kent, Virginia’s best hitter and the team’s first freshman since 2009 to earn selection to the All-ACC first team, led off the third with a single. He stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw from the catcher. There were no outs.
The Cavaliers couldn’t push him home; or perhaps Kent was too eager. After third baseman Zack Gelof stole second, Kent made off for home. The throw from second beat him by several seconds.
Murdock was spelled by left-hander Riley Wilson, the redshirt senior who is the last remaining player from UVa's 2015 national championship team. Wilson spun a fine 1⅓ innings before ceding the mound to right-hander Griff McGarry, who pitched a flawless seventh inning. But things got out of hand in the eighth with Virginia trailing 5-2.
“We have to do a better job of the walks,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “We gave a lot of what they call, ‘Free 90s’ away this year. You go and look at our losses, there was a significant amount of them in those games.”
That held true Thursday, when McGarry, who hadn't pitched since April 27, was pulled after he walked in a run, leaving right-hander Kyle Whitten to clean up the mess. The Hurricanes scored a pair of runs on a single, and after a wild pitch, another single drove in two more runs.
Most in the Virginia dugout looked ahead, stoic, as the Miami fans in attendance cheered. Senior Grant Donahue, standing on the top step, reared back and unleashed three right jabs on the cushion padding the dugout railing. He retreated out of view and then emerged again, delivering one more blow to the padding, which bore the tournament’s logo.
“Certainly not how we wanted to end the tournament,” O’Connor said.