By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — There was no masked man on the mound at Disharoon Park on Saturday, but that’s because University of Virginia pitcher Nick Parker opted not to wear the facial covering that had been made for him.

The mask affected his vision “a little too much,” Parker said, “so I decided against it today.”

Fifteen days earlier, in the opening game of UVA’s series against Florida State, the Dish had been the scene of a terrifying sight: a line drive that struck Parker in his right cheekbone, after which he initially lay motionless on the field.

From the Cavaliers’ dugout, head coach Brian O’Connor recalled Saturday, “I ran to the mound faster than I’ve ever run in my life, because I was scared to death that it hit him in the temple. I just ran out on the field and laid with him not knowing what the outcome was going to be.”

Parker walked off the field under his own power on March 24, an encouraging sign. Still, O’Connor figured the 6-foot-1 right-hander would be sidelined for an extended period.

Parker, a graduate transfer from Coastal Carolina, had other plans after having surgery on March 28. “Pretty much, the bone in my face was dented in,” he said, “and they just popped the bone back out in line.”

The team traveled to Blacksburg a few days later, and Parker asked if he could pitch in UVA’s three-game series against Virginia Tech. The team’s medical staff declined his request, saying he needed more to time to recover from surgery, but Parker’s desire to pitch again speaks to his “competitive spirit, his toughness,” O”Connor said Saturday. “This is his last year of college baseball and he wants to go out fighting, and he proved that today.”

In a front of an appreciative crowd on an unseasonably cold afternoon, Parker returned to the mound Saturday to face the No. 20 Miami Hurricanes. He started and pitched four innings before giving way to freshman Evan Blanco.

“It felt fine,” Parker said. “I never felt scared or anything back out there. It was good to just get back out there and start getting back into my routines and helping give us a chance to win games.”

He struck out three, walked one, and gave up five hits, including a two-run home run. The No. 7 Cavaliers trailed 4-3 when Parker left the game but rallied for a 6-5 victory that clinched their fourth ACC series win of the season.

“I was so impressed with him,” O’Connor said. “A lot of kids would have went out there and been timid, and he didn’t. To Miami’s credit, they jumped on him in the first inning and did a nice job, but he hung in there and gave us a good four innings, and we had a number of guys do a nice job out of the bullpen.”

Parker has had stronger starts this season, but that’s not surprising, given what he’s been through over the past two weeks. “So for me I was happy with being able to kind of cut the game in half, give us a chance, keep us in the game and just kind of grind through a day where you gotta grind through,” Parker said.

The sight of Parker back on the mound inspired his teammates. “It was definitely very scary, against Florida State, when you see that happen,” junior third baseman Jake Gelof said, “and it’s just awesome to see him go back out there and be fearless and really put it on the line for our team.”

The series opener was a one-sided affair that the Wahoos won 14-2 on Friday night. Game 2, as O’Connor expected, was much more competitive.

“I knew it would be a dog fight,” O’Connor said, “and [Sunday] will be too. Miami’s got one of the storied college baseball programs in this country. They’re ultra-talented. That’s why you play in this league, for an opportunity to play ball clubs like that.”

Jake Gelof

The Hoos (27-4 overall, 10-4 ACC) are batting .336 this season, and they totaled 12 hits Saturday against five Miami pitchers. Gelof, junior catch Kyle Teel and sophomore shortstop Griff O’Ferrall had three hits apiece for Virginia.

Gelof, who leads the ACC with 49 RBI, drove in three runs Saturday and had a single, double and triple. He also sparkled in the field.

“Jake Gelof has been great all year,” O’Connor said. “He was locked in today. His approach at the plate was really great, and he just looked very, very determined. You can tell that about some players some days. You can see their approach at the plate and their fight, and he had that today.”

In the top of the sixth, Angelo Tonas, a graduate transfer from Georgetown, came in to pitch for the Cavaliers with the bases loaded and none out. The score was 5-5, and the Hurricanes (21-11, 8-6) had a chance to break the game open, but Tonas retired three straight batters to quell the threat.

In the bottom of the sixth, Gelof’s double scored O’Ferrall, and Jake Berry and Jay Woolfolk held the Canes scoreless from there to help the Hoos secure their program-record 20th consecutive win at Disharoon Park, a streak that began last season.

“It shows consistency,” said O’Connor, who’s in his 20th season at Virginia. “It shows a group of guys that come to the ball park every day and treat it like a new ball game and are ready to play, and it’s a group effort. I told the team after the game, in every facet of the game so many guys chipped in. It wasn’t one player. It was a total group effort, and that’s what we’ve done all year … I’m proud of that, and we’ll see how long we can take it.”

Three times Saturday—in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings—Virginia loaded the bases with only one out. In each case, the Cavaliers failed to score, but they found a way to win anyway.

“That was a hell of a college baseball game,” O’Connor said. “Miami’s got a great club, and it was a hard-fought win for us.”

The series finale is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, when freshman right-hander Jack O’Connor (2-1, 3.27 ERA) will start for the Hoos. When these programs met last season in Coral Gables, Fla., Miami swept three games from UVA, and Gelof went 0 for 10 in the series. He’s 5-for-10 this weekend and will look to do more damage Sunday.

“It’s definitely a lot better than last year, I’ll tell you that,” Gelof said with a smile Saturday. “It was not very fun personally and as a team getting swept and getting swept in the box, I guess. But it’s been great to turn that around.”

The Cavaliers have lost only one series this season. After winning the first game in Blacksburg last weekend, UVA dropped two straight to the Hokies. That didn’t change the Hoos’ approach coming into this weekend.

“It’s a long season,” Gelof said, “and you don’t want to lose one series and try and change everything. We just want to stay within our approach at the plate, keep attacking guys on the mound, and play nice clean defense. At the end of the day, that’s gonna result in a lot of wins.”

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