CBB Visit: No. 2 Georgia Tech at No. 5 Virginia (April 9th)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — No. 5 Virginia’s 7-4 Friday victory against No. 2 Georgia Tech at home is really hard to capture in words—it’s hard to describe a game that was both a pitcher’s duel and an amazing display of hitting, and featured both 24 total strikeouts from the pitchers and five home runs from the batters.

This game met all of the nationally-acclaimed hype nonetheless—the record 4,155 fans that attended the game in Charlottesville were treated to an amazing game of baseball from two top teams.

Reigning All-Americans Danny Hultzen (Virginia) and Deck McGuire (Georgia Tech), both of whom provided Friday’s highly touted pitching matchup, took over the game early. Hultzen captured the first seven outs against Georgia Tech through strike outs on route to an eleven-strikeout performance. McGuire did just as well early on in the ballgame, allowing only one Virginia hit through the first five innings.

Both pitchers generally exhibited good velocity, location, and breaking pitches in front of a fair share of scouts at UVA Baseball Stadium. Scouts left generally impressed with McGuire’s and Hultzen’s early-inning performances—both pitchers hit mid-90s on their fastballs and used their breaking pitches effectively to disrupt batters and create outs.

Each pitcher, however, had moments of vulnerability. McGuire was tested early by the potent Virginia offense—in the first inning, leadoff hitter Phil Gosselin and two-hole hitter Tyler Cannon, spurred by the raucous crowd and intent to avenge the NC State series loss, hit two straight pitches very deep.

Gosselin’s ball died left-field warning track, but Tyler Cannon’s ball cleared the right field and Virginia an early 1-0 lead. McGuire, perhaps a bit rattled from the very loud crowd, threw an errant pickoff throw to first that gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning.

Both teams’ offenses were far too talented and balanced to be held in check throughout the game, despite the elite pitching featured on the mound. Hultzen was the first pitcher to be pounded, giving up all four of Georgia Tech’s runs in the top of the fifth inning.

Senior first-baseman Tony Plagman and junior catcher Cole Leonida hit back-to-back home runs, the former a three-run bomb just to the right of the batter’s eye at UVA Baseball Stadium and the latter a pulled solo shot to right field; both balls were apparently fastballs left a little too high. Hultzen would quickly recover though, striking out third baseman Matt Skole to end the inning.

Deck McGuire faced his biggest problems after the sixth inning, giving up three more runs in two outs of the seventh inning. McGuire was strong through six, holding the Cavaliers to just two runs on two hits.

In the seventh inning, Virginia second baseman Keith Werman kick-started the bottom-half of the inning with an up-the-middle single. Tyler Cannon would then hit an extremely controversial single to center field—the Georgia Tech center fielder Jeff Rowland apparently caught the ball with a spectacular dive, only for the umpires to eventually overrule the catch because the ball squeaked out of Rowland’s glove. Stephen Bruno followed-up upon Cannon’s single, perhaps a turning point in the game, with a two-run single that gave Virginia a 5-4 lead.

McGuire’s night ended shortly after, although his reliever Jake Davies didn’t fare much better. Davies gave up a two-run home run to Dan Grovatt, the only batter he faced. Grovatt’s home run to right-center effectively sealed the game in the bottom of the seventh inning at 7-4 Virginia.

Virginia was able to maintain its 7-4 lead because of superb bullpen outings from star relievers Tyler Wilson and Kevin Arico. Although the pair of relievers struggled against NC State, Wilson and Arico both struck out the side (Wilson in three batters and Arico in four) in their eighth- and ninth- inning appearances.

Virginia pitchers recorded 17 strikeouts—most by any team in an ACC game this season. Arico notched his 11th save of the season.

Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, already excited about the momentous first-game win against Georgia Tech, was extremely pleased with his pitching and the bullpen. Although O’Connor experimented with different bullpen personnel in Virginia’s previous mid-week games against James Madison and Radford, he was pleased that Wilson and Arico were able to reassume their bullpen roles extremely well.

O’Connor post-game was quick to pinpoint that Danny Hultzen’s perseverance and ability to stretch his outing until the seventh inning heavily contributed to the team’s success because it allowed Wilson to assume his eighth-inning setup role and Arico his ninth-inning closer role.

O’Connor, however, will not discount any of the experiments he made during Virginia’s recent mid-week games—young starlet Branden Kline, previously a mid-week starter and contender for the Sunday starting position, may still feature heavily this weekend.

“I think [with] Brandon Kline, the success that he’s been throwing out of the bullpen gives us another option—maybe we don’t have to use Tyler Wilson on back-to-back days. To win a series, you need more than two guys out of the bullpen, and Branden Kline will have his opportunities. But Tyler Wilson showed tonight why we believe in him, and why he’ll keep throwing,” O’Connor said.

No. 5 Virginia defeated No. 2 Georgia Tech on a night where No. 1 Arizona State and No. 4 UCLA, perhaps paving the way for the Cavaliers to reclaim the top-ranking in the polls with a win either tomorrow or Sunday.

The Yellow Jackets, however, will look to fight back and snatch Saturday’s game again with junior RHP Brandon Cumpton (5-0, 5.03 ERA, 25 K’s) on the mound. The Cavaliers counter with junior RHP Robert Morey (4-1, 3.43 ERA, 34 K’s).

The two teams return to action Saturday at 4 P.M. for the second game of the series.