RICHMOND — The Virginia baseball team on Tuesday night atoned for last season’s disaster at The Diamond — and picked up a much-needed victory in the process.
The Cavaliers defeated VCU, 3-2, on the back of timely hitting, effective pitching and an appetite to turn around what has been a trying season.
It wasn’t without drama. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, VCU second baseman Liam Hibbits crushed a two-run homer over the right-field fence. Virginia closer Kyle Whitten retired the final two batters to seal the win as the Cavaliers enter the spring term exam break.
“This gives us a great, positive feeling going into these exams,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “VCU’s got a really nice club. What a great atmosphere.”
The affair played out much differently from the teams’ last matchup in Richmond. Right-hander Griff McGarry, in what ended up being his final start of last season’s campaign, surrendered six runs in just 1 2/3 innings as VCU rolled to a eight-run victory on March 28, 2018.
McGarry was not on the mound Tuesday; he was resting his arm, having pitched two innings in Virginia’s 5-4 loss at North Carolina on Saturday. Instead right-hander Zach Messinger started the game, and he left with one out in the fourth inning having allowed just one hit.
Right-hander Devin Ortiz then held the Rams to two hits in four innings of work. Ortiz, who was recruited as a two-way player, also pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings in last week’s 2-1 win over James Madison.
“He’s really matured into a guy that we can really, really count on,” O’Connor said of Ortiz. “He’s got really high quality stuff.”
“I’m thankful for the opportunities,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz was spelled by left-hander Andrew Abbott, who retired all four batters he faced over the eighth and ninth innings. Whitten entered with one out in the ninth, and after surrendering the homer, closed the door.
Virginia’s offensive production was quiet, but effective. The Cavaliers got on the board in the second inning, when designated hitter Jack Weiller singled home third baseman Zack Gelof. A single off the bat of left fielder Brendan Rivoli scored shortstop Tanner Morris the following inning, and first baseman Nate Eikhoff drove in Gelof in the sixth with a single up the middle.
“This one of the best atmospheres, definitely the most people we’ve probably played in front of all year,” Messinger said. “Getting a win on the road — either way, we’ll take it however we can.”
The win marks UVa’s fifth in seven games. The Cavaliers had won three in a row entering this past weekend’s series at North Carolina, and they took the first game against the Tar Heels, 12-5. They weren’t as fortunate in the final two games of the series, losing both, 5-4.
Tuesday’s win over VCU (30-15) provides a boost to the Cavaliers’ postseason resume. But Virginia (27-20), which entered the contest at No. 77 in the RPI, likely still needs a strong showing in the ACC Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The team’s next opportunity to enhance its resume comes May 10, when it hosts Louisville for the start of a three-game series in Charlottesville.
Following the series with Louisville, Virginia hosts VCU at Disharoon Park on May 14.