Virginia rains on Wichita’s parade in Jax Baseball Classic opener

Henry Ford in the games final at-bat, swinging for the fences (literally). Photo courtesy of @uvabaseball via Instagram.

By: Nicholas Leo

The Inaugural Jax College Baseball Classic opened with a game to remember. The Hoos’ and Shockers traded runs over Friday’s extended contest at Jacksonville’s 121 Financial Ballpark; Virginia walked it off in extras’ to remain undefeated.

In the first-ever matchup between the Virginia (5-0) and Wichita State (2-2) baseball programs, rain delays totaled over three hours as the Cavaliers prevailed in extra innings, handing the Shockers their second loss of the season on a Henry Ford double, 5-4.

Hitting a deep fly ball off the right field wall in the bottom of the tenth with the bases loaded, Ford projected the Cavaliers to their fifth win in as many games. He’d knock in the game-tying and game-winning run before being mobbed by the Virginia ballclub.

“Definitely a spill of emotions,” Ford said. “It means a lot to me, I grew up a big fan, growing up in Charlottesville. So to come through for not only my teammates but the program as well, it’s a big moment.”

The scheduled first pitch was at 2 p.m., it did not arrive until 3:33 p.m. The second rain delay came midway through the eighth inning in a one-run ballgame. Providing an extra hour and 45 minutes in the dugout between the inning, the game did not resume until 7:50 p.m.; to give you some context, players were warming up as early as noon and the game did not finish until 8:44 p.m.

“It’s harder on the coaches than the young guys… At championship time at the end of the year, you play when they tell you to play,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “These guys are accustomed to it, when you have a long rain delay you hang out, play games, eat, they enjoy being around each other and it’s a part of what brings the team together and builds that team camaraderie.”

Teams and fans wait out the second rain delay of the game in the eighth inning. Photo by Nicholas Leo.

The Game

Top of the first, one out, three men on, and no hits. The Cavaliers advanced Shocker runners to first base three times following the pregame rain delay and still escaped the first inning scoreless. A three-six-one double play with the bases loaded confirmed by booth review re-instilled confidence in the Virginia squad.

Wichita initiated the scoring with a second-inning Jaden Gustafson double to the warning track that could not be corralled by Harrison Didawick in left field, and a Dayvin Johnson single that found that gap between second and short brought the runner home.

“There’s never really a point in the game where we feel panicked like we’re going to lose; or when things aren’t going well we know any inning can be a big inning,” Ford said.

Virginia tied it up in the bottom of the fourth as Luke Hanson knocked in Casey Saucke. Saucke advanced to third from first on two sacrifices’ before a hot Hanson shot up the middle got him home.

Darnell Parker Jr. trots down the third base line following his first career home run in the fifth. Photo courtesy of @goshockersbsb via Instagram.

The Shockers wouldn’t wait long to break the game open, designated hitter Darnell Parker Jr. hit a solo shot just inside the left field foul pole on the very next at-bat. A Camden Johnson double ignited the bats; causing Virginia to change pitchers twice throughout the fifth inning.

Evan Blanco’s day would finish with five Ks through 4.1 innings pitched, recording two runs earned. Johnson would be batted in by Callahan, making it a two-run game before the Cavaliers’ third pitcher on the day, Bryson Moore, was able to lock up the inning.

“They punched at us, we kept punching back and we ended up on top,” Ford said.

A sixth-inning Wichita State error propelled the Cavaliers to their second run. Virginia second baseman Henry Godbout reached on a throwing error, he’d be balked to second and driven in by a Bobby Whalen single.

After two throws found the dirt in front of the plate in the sixth, Caden Favors had the ball taken out of his hands as he ran out of gas. He’d complete 6.2 innings with just a run earned, allowing just one extra-base hit and chalking up five Ks.

“He competed his tail off, I feel bad for him, he really pitched well,” Green said. “He’s been a leader, I’m really proud of him… He’s done a great job for us and is off to a really good start.”

In the return to action following the second delay, relief pitcher Tyler Dobbs would secure a single out before Nate Adler took the mound. A confident Shocker team in the dugout would turn quiet as ground balls made their way through Wichita State’s defense.

The Cavaliers scored the game-tying run on the second throwing error from Parker Jr., allowing Godbout to score and Griff O’Ferrall to reach first safely.

“I brought the team together before we resumed and just reminded them that it does not matter what’s happened at this point in the game. We have a special opportunity in front of us and we either take advantage of it or we don’t. And we did,” O’Connor said.

Ninth inning, tied up at three, a brand new ballgame. The Shockers stranded two in their end-of-regulation effort. The Cavaliers responded with an immediate single and sac-bunt. Now a game of strategy, the Shockers elected to give the ball to LHP Hunter Holmes to get them to extras, he did.

Designated hitter Derek Williams would pull through when Wichita needed it, in the top of the tenth he’d smack an ear-ringing solo shot to deep left. Fielding in cheers from the crowd, whether for his homer or the game’s near-close, it did not matter.

Holmes struggled to keep men off base in extras, loading them in four batters prior to Ford’s heroics. Shockers head coach Brian Green discussed a change on the mound with pitching coach Anthony Claggett during this time and ultimately decided against it.

“Holmes, just with the movement we thought we could get a right-handed rollover because he’s shown the ability to do that,” Green said.

Ford was patient with his at-bat looking to drive the ball up, and was able to catch the barrel in a crucial situation.

“To play in games like that, to have opportunities like a lot of our guys had in the game, especially Henry’s opportunity at the end of the game is why college baseball is so great,” O’Connor 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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