Virginia rallies past UC Irvine
Taylor's walk-off RBI single propels Cavaliers to win, into CWS
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Chris Taylor was feeling like he'd let his team down for his part in a play that set Virginia up for another devastating failure in a Super Regional.
Instead, given a chance to redeem himself, Taylor came through with perhaps the biggest hit in Cavaliers baseball history, a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth that lifted them to a dramatic 3-2 victory against UC Irvine and back into the College World Series.
``I'm speechless right now,'' the sophomore shortstop said after a lengthy celebration that included a dogpile in the infield and high fives for fans in the left-field bleachers.
``This is a dream come true. A player can only dream of a moment like this,'' he said.
Virginia (54-10) was down to its last strike against Anteaters ace Matt Summers, making his first relief appearance of the season, when David Coleman singled to center on a 1-2 pitch, Jared King singled off Summers' leg and pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani walked on four pitches.
That loaded the bases, and Taylor knew Summers might be pressing to throw a strike. Still, he stood and watched as Summers' first offering went by looking like a very hittable strike.
``I was a little upset I didn't swing at it,'' he said. ``But I'm glad I didn't swing now.''
That's because he hit the next pitch up the middle, just out of the reach of diving second baseman Tommy Reyes, as pinch runners Mitchell Shifflett and Corey Hunt raced home, causing a sellout crowd at Davenport Field to erupt in celebration as the players rejoiced on the field.
The celebration included a Gatorade bath for coach Brian O'Connor, whose team will open just its second CWS appearance against California to begin pool play in Omaha on Sunday.
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|Box Score: Virginia 3, UC Irvine 2|
``Hopefully, there's one more,'' O'Connor said of the dousing.
Before Taylor's hit, he'd had a part in a play that could have caused Virginia to have to watch another team celebrate on the field, having stunned the Cavaliers in the deciding game.
A year ago, Oklahoma did it after bludgeoning the Cavaliers 11-0 in the third game.
UC Irvine scored in the top of the ninth with some uncharacteristic help from the Cavaliers. The run scored after a single and sacrifice attempt that catcher John Hicks threw away trying to get a force out at second base. The ball was tailing when Taylor reached for it trying to stay on the base, and it hit his glove and bounced into right as Sean Madigan headed for third.
``I should have had that ball. I really think I should have caught that ball and I felt really bad about it,'' Taylor said. ``But I'm just glad ... I got a chance to redeem myself.''
Madigan scored when Drew Hillman grounded into a double play, the Cavaliers oddly conceding the run even though they had been baffled all day by the Anteaters' bullpen. Their only run before the ninth came on the first home run of the season for Kenny Swab in the sixth.
UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said he never thought twice about sticking with Summers for the final three outs, even though the right-hander had thrown 93 pitches on Saturday.
``His stuff was still good,'' Gillespie said, even after the ball hit by King glanced off his glove and then his ankle. ``We didn't have a guy that we wanted to bring into that situation.''
The Anteaters got another stellar relief effort from a freshman, this time 4 1-3 innings from Jimmy Litchfield. He came on in the fourth, limited the Cavaliers to three hits and Swab's first home run before being lifted for Summers after allowing a one-out single in the eighth.
``One strike away from the dream,'' the left-hander said. ``It's tough.''
The move to Summers worked early. His third pitch produced a double-play grounder to end the inning, and he struck out Danny Hultzen and got Swab to bounce to first to start the ninth.
``That guys was blowing us away,'' coach Brian O'Connor said of Summers, calling the mood in the dugout ``as bad as it gets. ... The first two at-bats, honestly, weren't competitive.''
But then Coleman singled up the middle, and King, whose three-run home run off Summers broke open a close game in the opener, hit a shot up the middle that hit Summers and bounced away.
Summers (11-4) suffered his second loss of the weekend, while Virginia reliever Brendan Kline (4-1), who stood to lose through no fault of his own, instead wound up with the victory.
Before the ninth, it was all pitching and defense.
Virginia starter Will Roberts cruised into the eighth, never having allowed two baserunners in the same inning, but was lifted after Reyes doubled to right-center with one out. Reyes might have been held to a single, but Swab overran it in center and slipped as Reyes took second.
O'Connor turned to Kline, hit hard as he took the loss on Sunday, and he was sharp. He got Ronnie Shaeffer to pop out to third baseman Steve Proscia, and D.J. Crumlich to fly to right.
The Anteaters had gone ahead in the fourth after Crumlich doubled into the left-field corner leading off. Madigan sacrificed, and Crumlich scored on Brian Hernandez's hopper to second.
Swab's home run in the sixth tied it, setting up the dramatic finish.