By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia baseball team couldn’t have scripted a much more satisfying afternoon at Disharoon Park. On the penultimate day of the regular season, 18th-ranked UVA clinched an ACC series win with a run-rule victory over Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers, who defeated the Hokies 7-3 in the series opener Thursday night, crushed their in-state rivals 13-3 in a Friday matinee that was halted after six-and-a-half innings. In the process, they topped the 100-home run mark for the first time in program history.

Virginia (39-14, 17-12) hit three homers Thursday, raising its season total to 96. The Wahoos belted six more Friday, including two off the bat of junior Ethan Anderson. Junior Casey Saucke, freshman Eric Becker, and sophomores Harrison Didawick and Henry Godbout also homered for the Hoos.

“A home run is probably the most fun thing in baseball,” said Anderson, and the Cavaliers are having a blast this spring.

For the season, Didawick leads the team with 21 homers, two shy of the program record set by Jake Gelof last season. Freshman Henry Ford and graduate transfer Jacob Ference are tied for second with 16 apiece, and Saucke is fourth with 10. Becker has eight.

“Hitting is contagious,” Saucke said. “It makes you a little bit more confident. We all have our own individual approaches, but when you put hits together like that and people are putting balls out of the ball park, it’s very contagious, so it’s awesome.”

Anderson, who homered 15 times last season, had only five coming into this series. But he had a double Thursday night—his team-leading 19th of the season—and drove in six runs Friday.

“He’s coming,” head coach Brian O’Connor said, “and he’s been getting better and better over the last few weeks.

“There’s so much pressure on a guy like that. It’s his draft-eligible year, and everybody expects somebody like that to do what they did last year or better. The game doesn’t work that way, and I’m proud of him that he’s continued to hang in there and stay positive. The game rewards you when your approach is the right way.”

O’Connor said the coaching staff doesn’t talk to Anderson “about hitting home runs. It’s more about quality of contact, and when [he does] that on a consistent basis, and you have his strength and his leverage that he has at the plate, good things are going to happen.”

Ethan Anderson

The game turned in the bottom of the second inning. With two outs and a 1-1 count on Didawick, the Hokies’ starting pitcher, Griffin Stieg, who’d retired the Cavaliers’ first five batters, left the game with an undisclosed injury.

After a 10-minute break to allow reliever David Shoemaker to warm up, the game resumed, and Didawick promptly drilled a home run to right to make it 1-1. The Hoos added three runs in the third inning and five more in the fourth to blow the game open.

Tech, whose chances of making the NCAA tournament took another blow Friday, fell to 32-19 overall and 14-15 in ACC. The Hokies have dropped six consecutive ACC series.

“My heart aches for their starting pitcher,” O’Connor said. “He’s a really talented pitcher, and to see anybody walk off the mound and not be able to continue, it was tough. That put them in a position where they’re throwing a bunch of guys out of the bullpen, and we capitalized on it and did what we’re capable of doing.”

Weather permitting, the series finale will start at 5 p.m. Saturday. A Senior Day ceremony will be held before the game, beginning around 4:35 pm, after which the Hoos will look to sweep the Hokies for the first time since 2016.

Any series win is something to celebrate, but this one tastes a little sweeter, Saucke said, “because it’s Tech and it’s the Commonwealth Clash, and it’s one of our goals to not only beat every team, but beat them. They have a fantastic ball club, so to get a series win over them is very meaningful.”

Catcher Jacob Ference and Joe Savino

As important as the Cavaliers’ barrage of home runs in this series has been their pitching. Sophomore left-hander Evan Blanco worked 7.1 innings Thursday night, and right-hander Joe Savino, a graduate transfer from Elon, allowed only two runs in five innings Friday.

“That’s the [first time] all year that we have gotten back-to-back high-quality starts in league play,” O’Connor said, “and that’s what you need at championship time, and that’s what we’re treating this series as and everybody moving forward.”

In the top of the fourth, Savino walked the first two batters he faced, but then got the third to hit into a double play. Another walk followed, giving the Hokies runners on first and third, but Savino struck out Henry Cooke to quell the threat.

“I was just hoping that he’d manage it,” O’Connor said, “maybe just give up a run or two or something like that. But he buckled down and made the big pitches.

“Guys that have experience and poise and can execute pitches, they’re capable of doing something like that, and that was a big momentum shift in the game. Nothing’s more frustrating offensively than when you’ve got multiple runners on with no outs and can’t get a run, and then we come back and put more runs on the board. So huge for Joe, huge for our team.”

Also huge, with postseason nearing, was the series win. Six times the Cavaliers have advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and in three of those seasons they opened the NCAA tournament on the road.  Still, the Hoos, of course, would prefer to host an NCAA regional. They came into Friday’s game with an RPI of 12, and they’ve bolstered their résumé with the series win.

“These kids have earned that opportunity,” O’Connor said, “but I talked to the team about that this week, that you control what you can control, and that’s the games in front of you and playing good baseball. And then outside of that, it’s out of your hands. It’s up to, candidly, what other teams do that are not playing in these games, and then [the NCAA selection] committee.

“We’re just focused on what’s in front of us, and that’s tomorrow’s game. Every opportunity we have strengthens our case for the NCAA tournament time, and we’ll let those decisions be made when they’re made. All we can control is what we do on the field, but certainly winning this series is big, and we have a chance to do something special tomorrow night.”

When Godbout, a sophomore, came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, the score was 11-3, and he was the only Cavalier starter in the lineup without a hit Friday. Godbout rectified that with a two-run homer that pushed Virginia’s lead back to 10 runs.

Facing UVA reliever Ryan Osinski, the Hokies went quietly in the top of the seventh, and the game, under the 10-run rule the ACC has adopted, was over.

“It means a lot,” Saucke said of the series win. “This is what we work for, and Coach O’Connor said it the other day: This is championship time of year.”

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