May 23, 2018

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

DURHAM, N.C. — He’s eligible to return to the University of Virginia for another year, but in all likelihood junior Daniel Lynch has pitched in a college game for the last time.

Lynch wasn’t able to write the desired ending Tuesday — UVA lost 3-2 to Florida State in the ACC tournament — but he produced another gem in what has been a breakthrough season for the 6-4, 195-pound left-hander from the Richmond area.

In seven innings against the Seminoles (40-17), Lynch scattered seven hits, allowed two runs and struck out seven at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

In his final regular-season start, May 14 at Disharoon Park, Lynch had a career-best 13 strikeouts and earned the victory against Georgia Tech.

“I’m really, really proud of Daniel Lynch,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said Tuesday. “I think it shows you the kind of man he is [and] that it’s not necessarily how you start your career, it’s how you continue to develop and how you finish your career.”

As a freshman in 2016, Lynch posted a 1-3 record and had a 5.49 earned-run average. He was better in 2017 — 7-5, with a 5.00 ERA — but remained inconsistent. In his final appearance last season, a start against TCU in the NCAA regional in Fort Worth, Texas, Lynch lasted 2.2 innings.

“He’s been in our rotation for three years, and he’s grown through his time here,” O’Connor said. “He learned how to really, really compete, and he had some tough days, as you can have in this league, through his career, and it humbles you pretty quick at this level.

“I’ll tip my cap to him, because he continued to grind, he continued to be just consumed with working and getting better. You never have to tell Daniel Lynch that he needs to be in the weight room at 7:30 the next morning after his start. He’s there, he’s dependable, he’s a great teammate, and I’m certainly really, really proud of how he learned to compete and continued to make pitches in the clutch. He did that again today.”

Freshman left-hander Andrew Abbott, who took over for Lynch to start the eighth inning, impressed too. But Florida State capitalized on Abbott’s only significant lapse. With two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning, FSU freshman Reese Albert doubled off the wall in right field.

“I messed up on one pitch and he put a good swing on it,” Abbott said. “My outing can’t be defined by one pitch.”

Sophomore Drew Mendoza scored from first base on Albert’s seventh double of the season, and Virginia’s hopes of advancing to the NCAA tournament for the 15th time in 15 seasons under O’Connor were extinguished.

“I thought Abbott was locked in,” O’Connor said. “He was great, [but] in this game, when you’re playing a good opponent, you make one mistake, it can cost you, and certainly that’s what happened.”

The 10th-seeded Cavaliers (28-25) came to Durham knowing that to earn an NCAA tourney bid they needed to win the ACC championship. That can’t happen now. Advancing to the semifinals from Pool C will be Florida State or No. 3 seed NC State (40-14).

UVA closes the season Thursday at 3 p.m. against the Wolfpack.

“We’re still going to come out and try to win,” junior second baseman Andy Weber said, “and we’re going to have to battle hard like we did today, and we’ll see what we can do and see if we can finish the season off with a win.”

O’Connor wasn’t ready Tuesday to reflect on the end of the Wahoos’ run of NCAA tourney appearances.

“There will be another time that we assess that,” he said. “We’re here to play baseball. We’ve got practice [Wednesday]. We’ve got another game on Thursday, and that’s what we’ll be consumed with, and then we’ll analyze that when it’s done and determine where we go from there.”

Lynch, whose record is 4-4, lowered his ERA to 3.96 this season. In 88.2 innings, he struck out 105 and walked only 24.

He knew when he took the mound Tuesday that it might be his final appearance as a Cavalier, Lynch acknowledged, but “I tried not to think about it like that. I just tried to treat it like a normal game … [It’s] just starting to sink in that this will probably be my last start. But I’m proud of the team. I thought we fought really hard after I gave up two [runs] early, and I thought our offense battled all day, and we played good defense. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out your way.”

The Seminoles scored one run in the first inning and another in the third. For UVA, senior Justin Novak‘s single scored sophomore Cayman Richardson in the third, and junior Nate Eikhoff‘s sacrifice fly brought Weber home in the fourth, tying the game at 2-2.

Then the pitchers took over. Lynch retired the `Noles in order in the fourth and again in the sixth. Florida State starter C.J. Van Eyk lasted only three innings, but Austin Pollock followed him on the mound and threw 4.1 scoreless innings.

In the eighth, however, Pollock stumbled. A one-out single by junior Jake McCarthy gave the Cavaliers runners on first and second, and then Pollock hit Weber with a pitch to load the bases.

Here was UVA’s opportunity to break the game open, but sophomore left-hander Clayton Kwiatkowski replaced Pollock and needed only six pitches to strike out the next two batters.

In the ninth, the Cavaliers had runners on first and second with one out. In the 11th, with two outs, they had runners on first and third. Each time Virginia came away with nothing.

“We had a couple opportunities to capitalize on, and we didn’t, and some days that’s the game,” Weber said. “That’s baseball. I think you’ve just got to take it for what it is, and we just didn’t execute what we were supposed to, and we didn’t come out on top.”

Uncharacteristic baserunning blunders hurt the `Hoos, too. Were UVA players putting too much pressure on themselves, knowing this was effectively an elimination game? Maybe so, O’Connor said.

He added, however, that he “would much rather have a player and a team that presses and wants to win and wants to press the envelope than [one that’s] tentative. Although they’re baserunning mistakes, I’d rather have them be aggressive and want to win so bad that they make mistakes.”

If Tuesday marked the final college game for Lynch, who’s expected to be picked early in next month’s Major League Draft, Abbott figures to have many more appearances as a Cavalier.

A 6-0 left-hander from Halifax County, Abbott was one of two UVA players named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team this week, along with shortstop Tanner Morris.

In 3.2 innings against ninth-ranked FSU, Abbott struck out five, walked none and allowed two hits.

“I think it just gives me confidence to go out there and compete with the best teams,” Abbott said.

The `Noles don’t play again until 7 p.m. Friday, when they meet NC State. The winner will advance to the ACC semifinals.

FSU is in its 39th season under Mike Martin, the winningest head coach in NCAA history. In his postgame press conference Tuesday, Martin praised the Cavaliers’ effort.

“Rarely do you think this,” Martin said, “but knowing Brian and everybody on their staff, it’s a shame that somebody had to lose that ball game, because it was a well-played game [with only] one error. The pitching was excellent, the defense was excellent. It was just one of those games in which our ball club happened to come out on top.”

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