By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On one side of Davenport Field, Virginia Tech’s players celebrated as if they’d won this ACC baseball series.
In reality, UVa had clinched the series the previous night with an 8-2 victory over Tech. But on Sunday afternoon, the Hokies succeeded in tarnishing what could have been — should have been, in the Cavaliers’ eyes — a flawless weekend for the home team.
Tech rallied for five runs in the top of the ninth — on only three hits — to stun Virginia 8-5 before a capacity crowd of 4,129, the third straight sellout at Davenport.
“No, I’m not satisfied with winning the series, quite frankly,” UVa coach Brian O’Connor said. “We proved this weekend what kind of club we have, so it’ll eat at us the rest of the day, and then tomorrow we’ll turn the page — we’ve got two midweek games — and move on.
“This is one game of 30 ACC games that you play, and we had a chance to win the game. We didn’t. Sure, we won the series, but I can’t be satisfied with winning the series when you have a chance to take the whole thing.”
When the ninth began, with Tech trailing 5-3, there was no reason to believe UVa, ranked No. 1 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, was about to implode.
After getting two brilliant innings of relief from Branden Kline — the freshman right-hander retired the Hokies (9-9, 25-13) in order in the seventh and again in the eighth — O’Connor handed the ball to Kevin Arico, fully expecting the junior right-hander to what he has done so often for the Wahoos.
Arico came in leading the nation in saves, and he struck out Tech’s first batter, Tim Smalling, on four pitches. That brought up Ronnie Shaban, who quickly found himself down 0-2 in the count.
It would be awhile before Arico, who had walked only four batters all season, threw another strike. Four straight balls sent Shaban to first base, and then Arico threw three balls to Michael Seaborn before getting a strike across.
The reprieve was short-lived. Arico walked Seaborn and then Matt Blow, loading the bases, and O’Connor turned to junior Tyler Wilson, who’d pitched in relief Friday (in a 4-2 win) and Saturday.
“I hated to pull [Arico],” O’Connor said, “but it looked like he wasn’t commanding his pitches.”
Wilson struck out pinch-hitter Anthony Sosnoskie on a 3-2 pitch, and the ‘Hoos were one out from their 16th win over the Hokies in 18 games. But No. 29 Tech refused to go quietly. Sean Ryan drew a walk, scoring Shaban, and suddenly it was 5-4. Up came Anthony Sosnoskie’s brother, Buddy.
After Wilson got two strikes on him, Sosnoski fouled out four pitches. When he finally hit one that stayed in fair territory, it bounced off the wall in left for a three-run double. The Hokies added another run before Justin Thompson, UVa’s fourth reliever, retired Smalling.
“There’s 27 outs that you gotta get in the game,” O’Connor said, “and we didn’t get the 27 outs we needed quick enough.”
More often than not in O’Connor’s seven seasons at UVa, his team has been the one producing the dramatic late-game comeback.
“It’s part of the game,” Wilson said. “It’s going to happen. You’re gonna win some and you’re gonna lose some. We just ended up on the wrong side of the ball today.
“It’s always good to win two out of three and win a series, but with the way today ended up, and giving up five in the ninth, it kind of leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. We obviously wanted to come out and sweep them, but it’s part of the game, and we’ll bounce back.”
UVa (12-6, 29-9) remains third in the ACC’s Coastal Division. The ‘Hoos host Richmond on Tuesday and George Mason on Wednesday at Davenport.
Through eight innings, Virginia limited Virginia Tech to four hits. Starter Cody Winiarski gave the ‘Hoos six strong innings, striking out four and walking none, and Kline was untouchable in his relief appearance.
Asked if there were a scenario in which he would have left Kline in to start the ninth, O’Connor said, “Yeah, if we were maybe up by four runs or something like that, but this is what Kevin Arico gets paid to do.”
UVa’s skipper paused. “If you could pay them,” O’Connor quickly added with a smile.
“Bottom line, the guy is leading the country in saves, so that’s his role, that’s his job,” he said. “This is the time that he didn’t get it done. It happens all over the place, and it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, it’s tough to live with, but the next time we have a chance, the guy will be back out there, and I’m sure he’ll do the job.”
Juniors John Barr and Jarrett Parker each went 3 for 4 for the Cavaliers. Parker, who hit a team-hig 16 home runs in 2009, hammered a 2-0 fastball from Tech ace Jesse Hahn over the left-field bleachers to put UVa up 4-3 in the sixth.
The homer was the third of the season for Parker, who came in hitting .299.
“I’m feeling good,” Parker said, “just relaxing, trying to drive the baseball.”
O’Connor said: “I was really excited to see Jarrett Parker really step and meet Hahn toe to toe. That’s very, very encouraging. Obviously, if we’re going to have a really great offensive ball club, Jarrett Parker’s going to need to fill his role, and he certainly did today.”
In the seventh, UVa added another run when Dan Grovatt’s groundout scored Phil Gosselin from third. On most days, that two-run lead would have held up.
“It was a tough game, but it happens,” Parker said. “That’s baseball.”
O’Connor said: “I’m proud of our team. We battled Hahn. I think Hahn’s a great pitcher. We found a way to beat him, and we just couldn’t close the game out.”