By: Greg Waters
Chris Taylor’s two-out, walk-off, two –RBI single in the bottom of the ninth propelled Virginia (54-10) to a comeback 3-2 win over UC-Irvine(43-18) in game three of the Charlottesville Super Regional. With the win the Cavaliers earned their second trip to the College World Series in the last three seasons.
Branden Kline (4-1) got the win in relief of Will Roberts who was stellar going 7.1, allowing one run on five hits, walking one and striking out one. Anteater ace Matt Summers (11-4) made his first relief appearance of the season and suffering his second loss of the series as he surrendered two runs on three hits and giving a critical walk in the bottom of the ninth to load the bases for Taylor heroics.
Irvine’s Jimmy Litchfield was brilliant in his 4.1 innings of work tying up Cavalier hitters all afternoon.
Eater shortstop D. J. Crumlich almost single-handedly kept his club in the game with his slick glove work and a 3-for-4 afternoon. Taylor led the Wahoos with two hits in four at-bats and the two game-winning RBI.
The game remained scoreless for the first three innings until the Eaters broke through in the top of the fourth. Irvine shortstop D.J. Crumlich doubled to lead-off the frame, moving to third on Sean Madigan’s sacrifice bunt. Brian Hernandez grounded out to Keith Werman at second to score Crumlich.
The Cavaliers attempted to answer in its half of the frame, getting runners on first and second but were unable to plate either, stranding their fourth and fifth base runners of the game.
Virginia finally scratched in the bottom of the sixth on Kenny Swab’s solo shot to left.
Irvine added to the tension for the home crowd in the top of the eighth as Tommy Reyes got into scoring position off a one-out double. Cavalier head Coach Brian O’Connor decided to go with closer Branden Kline, despite blowing the save chance in Sunday’s game. Kline responded getting Ronnie Shaeffer and Crumlich to pop out and foul out respectively to end the Anteater threat.
“I just went with my gut,” noted O’Connor. “Branden Kline has some really good stuff and he’s not perfect sometimes. But he’s got swing-and-miss kind of stuff that can get you out of a jam. I felt like in the eighth inning when I brought him in with a runner on second base, I thought that could be the ball game. When Branden and I met this morning and talked about what he needed to do for his team today, if I was going to go down I was going to go down with that guy. I have 100% faith in him.”
In the Cavalier half of the frame Hicks reached on a one-out single and that sent Irvine skipper Mike Gillespie to his bullpen and to his ace Matt Summers. Summers delivered forcing Steven Proscia to ground out into and inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
That led to the exciting ninth inning.
Madigan led off the ninth with a single to centerfield and advanced to third when Hernandez’s bunt was fielded by Hicks but the throw went wide of Taylor at second and flared into shallow center. Drew Hillman grounded to Taylor at short to start the 6-4-3 double play, Irvine gladly trading two outs for the go-ahead run.
Down to its last three outs, Virginia’s Danny Hutlzen went down swinging and Swab grounded out to the first baseman. David Coleman had been unable to catch up with two Summers fastballs and Virginia was down to its last strike.
“[Summers] was blowing us away in the ninth inning,” O’Connor admitted. “The first two at-bats honestly weren’t too competitive and even Coleman was fouling balls over the left field stands.”
As they have done all season and especially in the post season, a Virginia hitter delivered with two outs and two strikes as Coleman extended the inning with his grounder back up the middle.
Jared King followed with an infield single off Summers instep putting runners at first and second. Pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases and Corey Hunt entered the game to run at second for King.
Taylor got a fastball that he could drive and just as Coleman and King did, Taylor sent the pitch right back where it came from.
“I was just trying to keep my plan simple,” explained the Cavalier shortstop. “I’ve been seeing the ball well lately and trying to do what I’ve been doing, get a good pitch to swing at and luckily if found a hole.”
Shifflett came around to score and so did Hunt in his first NCAA career appearance.
“I’ve talked about it all year long, about the fight and the character this team has. It’s just a really special group. I love this team for so many reasons,” said O’Connor. “Not only are they very talented, there’s just so many guys in our lineup and on the pitching mound that have risen up to this team throughout the entire season.”
Virginia will open play at the College World Series on Sunday, June 19, against California at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. That game will begin at 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN and online at ESPN3.com.