Virginia headed to CWS
Cavs score three runs in ninth to beat Maryland and clinch trip to Omaha.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As Virginia freshman Ernie Clement walked to the plate, the arc of the Cavaliers’ baseball season perfectly aligned with this moment. Virginia had struggled early, stayed within reach and now seemed poise for a dramatic rally.
Starting pitcher Brandon Waddell started pacing in the bullpen, taking advantage of his spacious dwelling. Trailing Maryland by one run in the bottom of the ninth, Virginia’s three base runners fixed their eyes on Clement.
The ninth hitter in the order, Clement smacked a breaking ball down the left field line, and Virginia’s dugout spilled onto the field in celebration. Clement was ambushed at second base, dogpiled so abrasively by his teammates that he had a scratch across his forehead as a proud battle scar afterward.
The script of Virginia’s 5- 4 walk-off win against Maryland in Game 2 of the Charlottesville Super Regional perfectly reflected the Cavaliers’ season, which had been marred by inconsistency because of injuries and youth, a doubtful postseason and then a surprising NCAA tournament run to the College World Series.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” Clement said.
After left-handed reliever Robert Galligan confounded the Cavaliers for 7 2/3 innings, not allowing a run, he unraveled in the ninth. He walked Pavin Smith to start the inning, then gave up a single to Robbie Coman. Maryland Coach John Szefc didn’t pull Galligan until after he walked Joe McCarthy to load the bases.
“What they wanted us to do was to take him out because he obviously had kept them off balance for a long period of time,” Szefc said.
“I think also that inning led off with a lefty leading off, so we were going to at least leave him out there to face Smith and see what happened. So that’s what we did.”
Szefc went to closer Kevin Mooney, who had blown a tworun lead Friday night. With a 4-2 lead, the bases loaded and no outs, Mooney walked Kevin Doherty to force home a run, narrowing Maryland’s lead to one. That set the stage for Clement’s heroics.
In the dugout, catcher Matt Thaiss turned to Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach and remarked that Clement looks like Seattle Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor, who is a U-Va. legend for his walk-off hit against UC Irvine in 2011 to advance Virginia to the College World Series.
“This one, I think, is better,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said.
“I think I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket after this,” Thaiss said. “I told Ernie he was going to get up that inning and he was going to come up with a big hit. I’m going to do that first.”
Saturday started with Maryland’s starting pitcher, Ryan Selmer, being chased just a third of an inning into his outing after giving up two runs. Trailing Virginia 2-1, the Terrapins chipped away at the deficit by putting the leadoff man on five times in the game.
Maryland took a lead in the fifth when freshman Kevin Smith led off with a single to center field. Kevin Martir brought him home with a single to center two at-bats later. The Terrapins added another run in the eighth on an RBI triple by Anthony Papio.
Waddell worked in and out of trouble throughout his start for Virginia, walking the first batter of the game and surrendering a run in the first. And though he allowed four earned runs on 10 hits, he didn’t let the game get out of reach, prompting O’Connor to keep him in for eight innings.
The struggles from early in the game, as well as those from earlier in the season, were pleasant for the Cavaliers to reminisce about afterward given the result. Two Virginia players crashed the Cavaliers’ news conference to take a selfie with O’Connor.
O’Connor looked down at his forearm and realized he had scratches from the victory dog pile on the field. Earlier, Clement had said the welt on his forehead from the celebration was worth it, and the coach, who was unsure the Cavaliers would even make the tournament a month ago, seemed to agree.
“I was going to miss out on it this year,” O’Connor said.
Maryland pitcher KevinMooney, right, covers his face after giving up a game- and series-ending single.