🔷 UVA Career HR 👑
🔶 UVA single season HR 👑
442-foot mammoth blast for @JakeGelof
— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) June 10, 2023
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Two pitches into the game, University of Virginia shortstop Griff O’Ferrall hammered the baseball over the wall in left-center field, and the sophomore’s first home run of the season raised the energy level of an already amped-up crowd several more notches at Disharoon Park.
O’Ferrall’s homer set the tone for what would become an emphatic victory for the Wahoos in the second game of their best-of-three NCAA super regional with Duke. Virginia fans made up all but a small section of the sellout crowd of 5,919, and they were in full voice for most of the next three hours Saturday afternoon.
“When the first batter of the game takes the ball deep, the crowd’s gonna get into it, and the UVA fan base today was crazy,” junior left-hander Connelly Early said. “That’s what we needed. We needed them to help us bounce back and set us up for a good game tomorrow.”
After losing 5-4 to the Blue Devils on Friday afternoon, Virginia needed to win Saturday to force a winner-take-all third game. The Cavaliers could not have looked much more impressive in doing so. The final was 14-4.
“Credit to Virginia,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said, “because they played really well with their backs against the wall.”
Early, a transfer from Army, struck out eight and walked none in seven innings, his longest appearance as a Cavalier. He improved his record to 12-2, tying the program record for single-season wins set by Seth Greisinger in 1996 and matched by Danny Hultzen in 2011.
The Hoos’ offense dazzled too. Led by junior third baseman Jake Gelof (3-for-4 with four RBI), Virginia totaled 14 hits, including four homers.
“I thought we played magnificently in every facet of the game,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Our team showed up today with a lot of enthusiasm, very focused and very loose. And so they have a lot of confidence in each other, and that’s what it’s going to take again tomorrow.”
At noon Sunday, Virginia (49-13) meets Duke (39-23), with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Devils haven’t played on that stage since 1961. The Cavaliers have made five appearances at the CWS, all during O’Connor’s tenure.
Facing elimination in 2021, when two of its current stars, Gelof and Kyle Teel, were freshmen, Virginia won the final two games of its super regional with Dallas Baptist in Columbia, S.C. That sent the Hoos back to Omaha for the first time since they won the NCAA title in 2015.
“In the 20 years that I’ve been the coach here,” O’Connor said, “I think there’s maybe only two recruiting classes that haven’t been to Omaha, and I’m proud as hell of that, because we talk to them about that in the recruiting process, that not only can you come here and get one of the great degrees in this country and play in a great league and develop your skill set to play at the highest level beyond college, they [also] all want to play in Omaha, and each team has that opportunity tomorrow.”
Right-hander Brian Edgington, a graduate transfer from Elon, will start at the mound for the Cavaliers on Sunday. He’s 8-3 this season with a 3.64 earned-run average.
O’Connor said he feels good about his pitching options, and with good reason. Only Early and freshman Jack O’Connor (no relation) threw for the Hoos on Saturday.
“The plan was to use either Jack O’Connor or Brian Edgington at the end of the game,” Brian O’Connor said, “and to try to save our bullpen, give them a day so everybody can rejuvenate a little bit be ready to go tomorrow.”
In addition to Edgington, the Cavaliers will “have all hands on deck, including Jack O’Connor if we need him,” Brian O’Connor said.
Early, who was named the most outstanding player of last weekend’s NCAA regional at Disharoon Park, rarely faltered Saturday. In the bottom of the fourth, however, Duke, the designated home team, scored three runs to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 4-3.
The Blue Devils had rallied to beat UVA on Friday, and a similar comeback suddenly seemed possible. But the Hoos had no intention of letting this one slip away. With one out and Gelof on second and Teel on first, sophomore first baseman Ethan Anderson belted his 13th homer of the season, a 410-foot blast to right field.
“It was the biggest swing of the game,” O’Connor said. “There were a lot of hits today on both sides, but Ethan’s three-run home run was the ball game.”
The Hoos weren’t done. Two batters later, sophomore designated hitter Anthony Stephan’s second homer of this NCAA tournament made it 8-3.
“I felt like the game was won when we responded in the top of the fifth,” O’Connor said, “and that’s what you have to do at this time of the year. There’s going to be difficult points in the game, and you’ve got to delete it and put it past you and be ready for the next inning, and we did that at the top of the fifth inning.”
In the sixth, Gelof’s two-run double pushed Virginia’s lead to 10-3, and he took a longer turn in the spotlight in the eighth. With two outs and junior Ethan O’Donnell on first, Gelof crushed a 442-foot home run that sailed over the bleachers in the left field. That gave him 23 homers for the season and 184 RBI for his career, both program records.
“Who knows it’ll ever be broken again,” Brian O’Connor said of the single-season home run record. “I don’t know, but I’m sure glad we have him for one more game.”
The opening game of the super regional ended Friday with a long fly ball off the bat of Gelof. Had it gone out, he would have had the record and Virginia would have won 7-5. But Duke’s Tyler Albright caught the ball at the wall in left field to quell the Cavaliers’ threat and push them to the brink of elimination.
A day later, in front of a crowd that included a crew of Gelof’s friends from his hometown of Rehoboth Beach, Del., the Hoos won big as No. 22 wrote another chapter in his legendary career.
“I had my boys in the stands here today, so it was awesome to see them,” Gelof said, “and my boys in the dugout getting hyped, so it was awesome.”
The day wasn’t as enjoyable for the Blue Devils, but Pollard said he told his team that “it doesn’t matter if it’s 5-4 or 14-4. We’re in a 1-1 rubber match, winner take all tomorrow. So I can promise you there’s no pity party on the bus ride back to our hotel. We will regroup quickly and we’ll come out and we’ll go punch for punch tomorrow.”
This is the Cavaliers’ eighth super regional under O’Connor and the sixth that will have been decided by a third game. He won’t spend any time trying to motivate his players Sunday with fiery pep talks or motivational speeches.
“I’ve always believed that this time of year the calmer, more poised warrior wins most of the time,” O’Connor said, “and that’s individually and collectively as a group. And so I do my best to keep my emotions under control. The hay’s in the ban. You’ve prepared them. It’s a matter of them going out and being loose and having fun and letting their ability take over.”
The Hoos have won a school-record 36 home games this season, and they’ll play one last time at the Dish on Sunday, in front of another capacity crowd.
“I think it helps, there’s no question,” O’Connor said, “when you wear this uniform and you step in that batter’s box or on the mound or in the field and you see orange all around you and you see the support … That’s because of the body of work that you do all the year that you have the opportunity to play in your ballpark and be the home team tomorrow. Because we’ve earned that throughout the year, and I think it makes a huge, huge difference.”
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