Free UVA Baseball Tickets vs. Penn State this weekend:
Fri, March 4 at 3pm Sat, March 5 at 1pm Sun, March 6 at 1pm Send me a DM for your tickets 👇. 🔶⚔️🔷 pic.twitter.com/6QDNpKMMdF
— Brian O'Connor (@UVACoachOConnor) March 2, 2022
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – He’s a second-year student at the University of Virginia, so Jake Gelof technically is still an underclassman. In a UVA baseball program with 16 newcomers, however, Gelof qualifies as a veteran.
“It’s a totally different feeling,” Gelof said Tuesday evening. “As soon as I got back on Grounds [last summer], my role instantly changed, especially with so many new faces on our team. Even the older guys, the grad transfers, they’re still rookies in a sense of getting used to the culture we have here at UVA and playing at a different level.
“I would definitely say the switch flips from being a rookie. You’re always constantly learning, but you’re really trying to teach the younger guys how to go about their business, for sure.”
The new Wahoos could do worse than to follow Gelof’s lead. Through eight games, all UVA victories, he’s batting .636, with 23 runs batted in. He’s also the reigning ACC player of the week.
In a 19-1 victory over visiting Cornell on Sunday, Gelof became the first UVA player in 21 years to hit for the cycle. When he came to plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday, he had a chance to duplicate that feat. Gelof had collected a single in the third, a three-run triple in the fifth and an RBI double in the sixth.
Alas, he flied out to center field. But Gelof finished 3 for 4 as the Cavaliers blanked William & Mary 12-0 at Disharoon Park.
“Obviously, Gelof has been just completely locked in since we’ve gotten back home,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He was a swing away from a back-to-back cycle. That’s pretty incredible that you’re one swing away from doing it in back-to-back games.”
This is the fourth consecutive season at least one Gelof has been in Virginia’s lineup. Zack Gelof was a three-year starter at third base for the Cavaliers, and Oakland picked him in the second round of last year’s Major League Baseball draft. Zack and his kid brother helped the Hoos advance to the College World Series last season.
The younger Gelof appeared in 38 games last season, with 29 starts, and hit .252. He didn’t get his first hit until the Cavaliers’ 13th game. He’s 14 for 22 this season to lead an offense that has totaled 102 runs. He’s also taken over as Virginia’s starting third baseman.
The Hoos have scored at least 10 runs in five straight games, the first time they’ve done so since 2010. Against W&M (3-2), junior Chris Newell (1-for-3) and freshman Ethan Anderson (2-for-5) homered for Virginia, and graduate student Devin Ortiz (2-for-3) had a two-run single in the first inning.
“It’s coming in different forms, too,” O’Connor said of his team’s offense. “It’s guys hitting balls out of the ball park. It’s guys with a good two-strike approach, putting the ball in play. We haven’t bunted yet much, a couple of times, but I’m sure that’s coming at some point. In certain games, when you’re in the back half of the game you need to move a runner on, and I think we got guys that are capable of doing that.”
This is O’Connor’s 19th season at UVA, which has advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., five times and won the NCAA title in 2015. The Cavaliers’ 102 runs are the most-ever through eight games for an O’Connor-coached team.
“It’s hard to do,” O’Connor said. “It’s hard to score that many runs, but you’ve got a chance to do it if the collective group is ready to play every day. And that’s what I’ve seen. I’ve seen a really good approach and focus with these guys out here every time that they’ve had an opportunity.”
The pitching has also been exceptional for Virginia, which is ranked in the top 25 of four polls. Ortiz started against William & Mary and retired the first 15 batters he faced. In 5.2 innings, he allowed two hits and struck out a career-high nine batters.
Ortiz, a right-hander who made only three pitching appearances last season, is 3-0 in three appearances this season and has yet to allow a run.
“He’s such a veteran presence,” O’Connor said. “The guy knows how to pitch. He can throw 3-2 sliders. He can throw any pitch in any count and it’s really good stuff … What a valuable player. To be able to start, and give you a good quality start, and then hit in the 3-hole is pretty difficult to do, but that’s what a veteran guy that has talent does.”
When Ortiz is not on the mound, UVA uses him at first base or as its designated hitter. He’s hitting .391 this season, with 11 RBI.
“These past couple weeks have been great with just getting into a nice rhythm with starting on the midweek,” Ortiz said. “It allows me to just kind of focus on hitting throughout the weekend. So it gets me into a nice routine, and I think that’s been best for us so far.”
As a sophomore in 2019, Ortiz made 18 pitching appearances, all in relief, and posted a 1.78 earned-run average. He wasn’t used as a pitcher during the 2020 season, which the COVID-19 pandemic cut short.
His first career start as a UVA pitcher came on a big stage: the final game of last year’s NCAA tournament regional in Columbia, S.C. Ortiz, who ended that game with a walk-off home run against top-seeded Old Dominion, struck out six and allowed one hit in four scoreless innings that day.
He likes starting on the mound. That allows him to “get into a nice routine for the game and not have to be scurrying around,” Ortiz said. “Especially since I’m hitting. Being a reliever and a hitter, it’s a lot harder just because of the scrambling around and having to warm up between innings.”
Ortiz’s role could change, O’Connor acknowledged. “We’ll see as the season goes on if he stays there. Does he move to the weekend as a starter or [come] out of the bullpen? Right now, it’s working well for us, so he can focus on playing first base on the weekend.”
UP NEXT: The Cavaliers’ nine-game homestand continues with a series against Penn State (3-4) of the Big Ten. The teams are scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
UVA and Penn State haven’t played each other since 2004. Virginia leads the series 12-10.
Later Tuesday night, on his Twitter account (@UVaCoachOConnor), the Cavaliers’ skipper gave fans an opportunity to pick up free tickets to the Penn State series.
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