The opening two innings of Virginia's first NCAA Tournament game at the Greenville Regional on Friday night did little to soothe concerns that the team's lackluster play in the last couple of months would continue in June. The Cavaliers managed only two baserunners and committed a pair of fielding errors in the second inning that allowed two runs to score to give Coastal Carolina the early lead. Such mistakes and sloppy play have been a big reason why UVA has struggled since the beginning of April.
Then, the Cavaliers woke up and began to found the same magic that allowed them to begin the season 22-1.
Virginia delivered a four-run third inning to take the lead and used a stellar all-around fielding performance, including a number of web gems, as well as an outstanding showing from starting pitcher Nate Savino to protect that lead as UVA defeated Coastal Carolina 7-2 on Friday night at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
In March of this season, Nate Savino strung together four-consecutive starts in which he pitched at least six innings, all four of which ended with victories for the Cavaliers. Since then, Savino has failed to reach the six inning mark in any of his eight starts and Virginia went 2-6 in those games.
UVA knew that improved performances from its starting pitching staff would be pivotal if the team wanted to make a push to Omaha. In the opening game of the Greenville Regional, Nate Savino regained his form. Savino pitched 6.1 innings, allowing just five hits and striking out four batters. The two runs that the Chanticleers scored on Savino's watch in the second inning were as a result of UVA fielding errors, so the junior lefty finished with zero earned runs on his stat sheet.
A walk and a single put two runners on base and then a throwing error by Jake Gelof at third loaded the bases in the second inning. Tanner Garrison put a ball in play to Justin Rubin at second base, who committed Virginia's second throwing error in a row, which allowed two runs to come home for Coastal Carolina.
The Cavaliers bounced back in a big way in the bottom of the third. Rubin redeemed himself with a leadoff single before stealing second base and advancing to third on a single by Alex Tappen. Jake Gelof hit a grounder to shortstop for a fielder's choice RBI as Rubin came home from third. After Devin Ortiz fouled out to the catcher to give Virginia two outs in the inning, Kyle Teel hit a two-run double to left-center field to give the Cavaliers the lead.
Casey Saucke followed that up with an RBI single into left field to score Teel to make it 4-2.
With the bats coming alive to put UVA back in front, it was time for the Virginia defense to make up for its early errors behind Nate Savino, who continued to deal. In the top of the fifth, Matt McDermott drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a bunt. Then, he attempted to steal but was gunned down at third by Kyle Teel. Eric Brown came up next and laced a line-drive into left field, but Alex Tappen made an athletic diving grab to end the inning.
Tappen turned around and delivered a leadoff double down the right field line to start the bottom half of the inning and then scored on a single from Jake Gelof. That single gave Gelof his 76th RBI of the season, just one shy of Pavin Smith's single-season UVA program record.
A Casey Saucke double brought home Gelof and then Ethan Anderson singled to bring in another run to give Virginia a 7-2 lead.
Savino pitched into the seventh inning, but was lifted after putting runners on second and third with one out. Jay Woolfolk entered the game and struck out the first batter he faced before walking the next to load the bases. Then came another fantastic defensive play as Jake Gelof flashed some leather on a diving stop at third base to end the inning with no damage done.
Gelof had a superb all-around game, finishing 3-4 at the plate with two RBI and two runs scored.
Woolfolk pitched through the eighth inning with the help of another fantastic diving catch by Alex Tappen in left field to strand runners on the corners and then Matt Wyatt struck out the side in the top of the ninth to end the game.
Virginia will face the regional's host and the NCAA Tournament's No. 8 overall seed East Carolina on Saturday at 7pm. The Pirates defeated Coppin State 17-1 in the opening game of the Greenville Regional on Friday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.
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