Cavs Bow Out Of Region
Jun 04, 2012
Kyle Crockett and the Hoos couldn't complete a pair of Sunday comebacks.
As an admitted UVa fan, I try to put on an objective hat when covering sports for TheSabre.com but let me say it's difficult to watch my favorite club lose two NCAA Tournament games in the same day - each by a lone run with the tying run in scoring position.
Brutal. That's what that is.
Virginia gave Appalachian State (41-16) a six-run cushion then clawed its way back but fell a run short as the Hoos dropped out of the winner's bracket with their 6-5 loss to the Mountaineers. With the win Appalachian moved to 11-2 in one-run games this season and it has won eight straight games decided by just one run.
Because Friday's games were moved due to the rain, the pressure increased as the Hoos were forced to turn around and play the Oklahoma Sooners immediately following the loss. Coach Brian O'Connor said his club put itself in that position because they couldn't get the job done at the plate.
"Appalachian State played a tremendous ball game and they deserved to win," said O'Connor. "They hit in the clutch early in the game, they were very aggressive and took the fight to us and got us back on our heels. I'm proud of our guys that we were able to crawl back into it but we just didn't have enough to get a couple more clutch hits and do what it takes to beat a good ball club."
Seth Grant (7-3) went six shaking innings for Appy State and gave up five runs (four earned) while striking out four. Despite some wildness, Grant kept Virginia in check early and then gutted out his final three winnings to leave with his team in the lead. ASU's Nathan Hyatt extended his school record with his 16th save of the season. UVa starter Artie Lewicki (4-3) struggled in the loss and went just 4.2 innings while allowing six earned runs and walking three. All of the runs came in the first two innings, including a devastating five-run second.
"That was a blow but it didn't really take me out of it completely. It was tough seeing five runs put up there but I knew it was early enough," Lewicki said. "Our coach always preaches to us that you can overcome big numbers early and it was only the second inning so I figured we could come back and we almost did."
Game two did not conclude any better.
Second baseman Jack Mayfield's bases loaded, three-RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth inning gave Oklahoma (40-23) a four-run lead and the Sooners held on for a 5-4 win. For the second time in three seasons, Oklahoma eliminated Virginia (39-19-1) from NCAA postseason play.
Sooner starter Dillon Overton (6-3) dominated a UVa lineup that led the ACC in hitting this season; he went 8.1 innings and allowed two earned runs. The southpaw sophomore scattered seven hits and struck out 11 Cavalier hitters. Overton clearly impressed O'Connor.
"Oklahoma has a really good ball club," said O'Connor. "Overton was about as good a left-handed pitcher as we have seen all year. He is obviously a really talented young pitcher and has a very bright future."
Senior Shane Halley (9-2) got the start for Virginia, his first appearance since May 12 against Georgia Tech where he suffered an oblique strain. The senior pitcher lasted three innings and allowed three earned runs off four OU hits while striking out four. Halley gave way to Nick Howard who went 3.2 innings and surrendered a run off a hit and three walks. Justin Thompson closed out the final inning and a third.
As they did in the earlier game, the Hoos did not give up without a fight making things interesting in the ninth.
With the score 5-1, Nate Irving set the table with a one-out double and scored on senior Keith Werman's single. Taylor singled and both runners advanced on Colin Harrington's grounder to third. Harrington was out at first on a bang-bang play. Stephen Bruno's 2 RBI double shaved the Sooner lead to one and put the tying run in scoring position for Derek Fisher. Fisher who entered the at bat 0-14 for the regional hit a harmless ground ball to first who threw out Fisher to end the game.
Gutting it out
Coach Karl Kuhn attempts to settle down pitcher Artie Lewicki during the first inning.
It's clear Artie Lewicki did not have his best stuff Sunday - far from it. UVa's starting pitcher lasted 4.2 innings and gave up a career-high six runs, all earned. It was Lewicki's shortest outing since going 4.1 innings at North Carolina on April 15. This from a pitcher who entered the regional having delivered four quality outings and a 2-0 record over his last four appearances. Lewicki had been impressive in ACC play where he led the team with a 2.87 ERA in nine conference starts and limited opponents to a .230 batting average.
But the sophomore righty admits he was not on point Sunday.
"I think just early I wasn't able to keep the ball down," said Lewicki. "I struggled to throw strikes early. Pitches just weren't going well too early. I felt I settled down later though. I tried to keep our team in it the rest of the game."
After giving up six runs and seven hits in the first two innings, Lewicki did indeed settle down over the next 2.2 where he limited the Mountaineers to just two hits. Lewicki says a quick visit to the bullpen and some adjustments made the difference.
"I went down to the bullpen between the second and third innings and threw a couple of pitches I felt uncomfortable with and I was able to make a change out there and transfer it over," he said.
The session did work as Lewicki along with Kyle Crockett and Justin Thompson shut down the Appalachian State hitters the remainder of the game. After opening the contest going 7 of 10 through the first two innings, ASU hitters went 4 of 22 with no runs scored over their final six at-bats. That allowed O'Connor to save some arms for future games and more importantly gave the offense a chance to make a comeback.
"I though Lewicki did a nice job sucking up the game there in the first half of the game," said O'Connor. "It was important they we try to get 100 pitches or so out of him. He kept the game in check for us because everybody knows how pivotal this game was to win to go 2-0 and everybody knows what you have in front of you now - you have to win three ball games. You've got to save as much pitching as possible and he did a fantastic job after those two innings of doing his job and giving us a chance and we almost did it."
Sometimes it's just not your weekend and that was clearly the case for the Hoos.
Virginia has had great success doing the little, fundamental things that win baseball games. Clutch hitting, smart base running and good pitching. The baseball gods have smiled on them a time or two as well. Not Sunday.
ASU's first hit was a shallow fly ball by leadoff hitter Hector Crespo that shortstop Chris Taylor lost in the afternoon sun. Crespo hustled around first and by the time a Cavalier got to the ball the base runner was at second. He later came around to score on a real double.
"Obviously I think that pop up changed the first inning," O'Connor said. "But in that second inning they were very aggressive, bunting and they hit-and-run."
The second inning started off with a routine single up the middle off the bat of Trey Holmes.
No big deal.
Preston Troutman followed that with a shot that Jared King gloved and tossed to Lewicki at first - a play that Virginia pitchers practice hundreds of times and execute, usually flawlessly, in every game. But Lewicki got to the bag late and the runner was safe. The play didn't end there. Holmes kept running and was half-way to third when Lewicki noticed and fired a shot that was out of the reach of third baseman Stephen Bruno. The ball sailed into foul ground and Holmes scored.
"[Lewicki] didn't get over to cover first; he was late getting there," said O'Connor. "If he gets over right away we collect an out there, we have a runner on second base and one out - it's a completely different inning."
The same thing happened against Oklahoma - mistakes, poor execution and lack of fundamentals.
Unearned runs and uncharacteristic mistakes led to Mayfield's big chance in the fourth. Evan Mistich got things started when Taylor booted a sharp grounder to short. Matt Oberste got a free pass from Halley and Cody Reine was hit to load the bases. That's when Mayfield took Halley's 1-2 offering into the left center gap.
O'Connor noted his club's uncharacteristic play and its impact on the game.
"Those are the runs that you never know which one is going to cost you," he said. "Unfortunately we let a run cross [in the seventh] and it was the run that cost us the ballgame. We certainly were not at our best this weekend and that is in no way meant to take away from Appalachian State and Oklahoma. We play better infield defense that we did this weekend."
But it wasn't just the defense. UVa's offense had plenty of opportunities to score more than enough runs to win either contest but simply did not execute. Overall the Hoos were a respectable 6 for 13 with runners in scoring position against ASU but left what could have been the game-tying run in scoring position four times in the game.
According to O'Connor championship teams simply can't win that way.
"I thought Seth Grant did a nice job," O'Connor said of the ASU starter. "He did live on the edge and I thought that was a big part of the game in that we didn't capitalize enough when he gave us opportunities and that's pretty much the story of the game. I think Seth's a fine pitcher but when he gives you opportunities like we had, to win championships you've got to capitalize on them and we didn't."
Virginia loaded the bases in the second with one out and failed to score as Werman went down swinging and Chris Taylor lofted a harmless fly ball into right center for out number three. One run there changes the whole dynamic of the game. UVa also placed runners in scoring position and failed to execute in the second, third, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. In addition to leaving the bases loaded in the second, the Hoos left the tying run at second in the seventh, got the tying and go-ahead runs to second and third with one out in the eighth and left them stranded and again got the tying run to second in the top of the ninth but did not convert.
In the last three innings Virginia failed on three different at-bats to advance a runner in scoring position against the Mountaineers. In the nightcap, Virginia went 1-5 with runners in scoring position in the first eight innings but the 3-4 for effort in the ninth fell one hit short.
In Virginia's two losses on Sunday, the Cavaliers stranded a total of 20 runners, including nine against Oklahoma with five in scoring position.
You simply don't win championships that way.
Keith Werman bunts in a run in the fourth inning.
No three players have experienced more success in a UVa uniform than Shane Halley, Justin Thompson and Keith Werman and for their coach, the most disappointing aspect of Virginia's season-ending loss Sunday night was that those three young men will never wear that uniform again.
"The three players that I feel the most for are Keith Werman, Shane Halley and Justin Thompson - those individuals that won't have the opportunity to wear our uniform again," O'Connor said. "They have always represented our program with a tremendous amount of class. They are warriors and they play the game the right away. They play hard all the time. It is disappointing that this is the end for them."
The stat line is impressive.
In four seasons, the trio played on Virginia clubs that won 195 games, two ACC Tournament titles and three NCAA Regional championships; plus, the Hoos earned their first two trips to the College World Series during that span.
Werman, who received a standing ovation during his entire final at-bat in the ninth inning, struggled to maintain his composure while sharing his thoughts on the fans' appreciation in the postgame press conference.
"It means the world to me to have the fans and my teammates there. It was tough," Werman said. "I just tried to hang in there and get a quality at-bat for the guys to keep the game alive."
Earlier in the week Stephen Bruno, another Cavalier who may have played his final inning at Davenport, shared his thought on the impact of the "Ninja" Werman.
"He is going to put himself in line for our team and he's done so for the past four years. I've played with him for three years and he is just a great role model for everybody - our young players and our veterans," Bruno said.
Reflecting on his career, Halley called playing for Virginia and the Cavalier coaching staff an "honor."
"It has meant the world to me," Halley said about playing for Virginia. "I have learned so much here, and been around great players. I've learned so much and just being able to watch these young guys this year has been awesome. They started off rocky and they have learned so much in one year. It has been impressive and they are going to be great here, in the future."
Junior Chris Taylor, who may well have played his final game in Charlottesville as well, praised his three teammates saying that the respect and high regard people in the baseball world have for Virginia is due in large part to players like Werman, Halley and Thompson.
"These three guys have been a huge part of this program over the last four years," Taylor said. "I think that what they have done and the way that they have carried themselves has been the identity of the Virginia baseball program. I think what people respect about us is the players like Keith, Shane and Justin Thompson, and what they have done here."
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