Virginia’s persistence pays off, mounting comeback to remain undefeated

Henry Ford removing his batting gloves and taking his free base in the third inning of Saturday's late contest. Photo courtesy of @jaxcbc via Instagram.

By: Nicholas Leo

An early six-run Hawkeye lead was not enough to withstand the Hoo’s late rally Saturday night. Once even with Iowa in the seventh, the teams traded runs before Virginia’s ninth-inning heroics were put on full display for the second day in a row at the Jax College Baseball Classic.

Left-handed Iowa closer Brant Hogue loaded the bases in three batters. Walking Anthony Stephan and advancing the lead run home, Henry Ford would drive in two more by way of a single through the left side to cushion the lead. The Hoo’s (5-0) held on to win 12-9 over the Hawkeyes (3-3) at Jacksonville’s 121 Financial Ballpark.

“Iowa has a heck of a ballclub and that was an amazing college baseball game. It’s a shame that someone had to lose,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said.

The explosive first inning for Iowa brought silence across the Virginia crowd. Raider Tello tripled, clearing leadoff man Michael Seegers and two-hole Sam Petersen from the basepath. Tello scored on a wild pitch, and Kyle Huckstorf cleared the bases with a three-run right field moon-shot, making it 6-0 Iowa.

The third inning opened up the scoring for Virginia, sending seven batters to the plate and getting two baserunners across. Eric Becker and Ethan Anderson were awarded free bases and found their way around the diamond as Casey Saucke singled them home.

Iowa countered the same inning, getting timely two-out doubles from the bottom of the lineup and adding a run to their lead.

Iowa’s Michael Seegers awaits a Jack O’Connor pitch in the bottom of the third inning on Saturday. Photo courtesy of @jaxcbc via Instagram.

Now a five-run Iowa lead entering the fourth inning, Virginia kept applying pressure. A Becker double scored a run, he’d find his way to home on a later ground out. A wild pitch got another Hoo across the plate and Ethan Anderson ripped a two-run home run to even it up at seven a piece.

“We just really showed the type of offensive ballclub that we have, we didn’t give many at-bats away and fortunately we were able to chase their starter out of the game and get to their bullpen,” Coach O’Connor said.

The bottom half of the inning started with two Jack O’Connor pitches finding the bodies of Hawkeyes’ Petersen and Tello rather than the strike zone.

“He didn’t have his great command, but a big tip of the hat to him staying in the game and logging the innings he did after that rough first inning,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said about O’Connor’s performance.

Virginia moved to Jay Woolfolk, who’d focus would be on managing the base runners. Davis Cop singled, bringing the leading run in Petersen home, and Woolfolk closed out the inning with three straight outs, stranding two.

Cavalier Casey Saucke’s first home run of the season could not come at a better time, as he notched the game-tying run with his seventh-inning solo shot.

Jay Woolfolk shows emotion walking to the dugout following his fourth scoreless inning in the seventh. Photo courtesy of @uvabaseball via Twitter.

Both teams would find home plate once in the eighth on defensive errors, making it 9-9. Woolfolk exited the game recording five Ks and no runs earned thru 4.1 innings.

“I’m just really proud of Jay. That is the best that he’s pitched in our uniform,” Coach O’Connor said.

Three men on and one out in the top of the ninth of a gridlocked ballgame. Virginia’s Stephan stayed composed and was walked to retake the lead. Henry Ford, the savior from the night prior, would tack on to that lead; singling through the left side and knocking in two more runs.

The Hawkeyes did not come up in the bottom half of the inning, Cavalier closer Blake Barker efficiently ended it for the second day in a row. The Hoo’s advance to play Auburn in the tournament championship on Sunday at 5 p.m., where one squad will be handed their first loss of the season.

“It’s just pretty simple you can’t walk nine guys against Virginia, it’s a frustrating loss because we had guys out there who usually don’t pitch like that,” Heller said.

The 3-day tournament runs Feb. 23-25 and features college baseball programs from Virginia, Wichita State, Auburn and Iowa.

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