After piling up runs during the regular season and through the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament, the University of Virginia baseball team arrived at the Men’s College World Series with an offense that inspired fear in most opponents.
At Charles Schwab Field Omaha, however, the barrage of hits that had become these Cavaliers’ trademark never materialized. And so an exceptional season ended on a disappointing note for UVA, which finished 50-15 after dropping two one-run games in Omaha. Two days after falling 6-5 to Florida, UVA lost 4-3 to TCU in the first elimination game of this MCWS.
The Wahoos came to Omaha hitting .335, which ranked No. 1 nationally, and averaging 9.1 runs and 12 hits per game. Against Florida, the Hoos went 8-for-30 on a night when their bullpen struggled. Against TCU, the Cavaliers’ pitching was solid, but they went 5-for-32 at the plate.
This was the Cavaliers’ sixth trip to the Men’s College World Series—all under head coach Brian O’Connor—and they’d won at least one game in each of their previous five appearances. They’ve advanced to the championship series twice, finishing runner-up in 2014 and winning the NCAA title in 2015.
Virginia was the home team Sunday and came to bat trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. After TCU left-hander Ben Abeldt retired the first two batters he faced, sophomore Casey Saucke singled and then took second on a fielding error.
With one of its best hitters at the plate, sophomore Anthony Stephan, that goal appeared within reach. But Abeldt struck out Stephan, who hit .329 this year, to end the Hoos’ season.
“We just outlasted them,” said TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos, whose team won for the 12th time in its past 13 games. The Horned Frogs (43-23), who’ll meet Oral Roberts (52-13) in another elimination game Tuesday afternoon, went up 1-0 in the top of the first on a sacrifice fly by Cole Fontenelle.
Virginia answered immediately. Sophomore Griff O’Ferrall, who finished the season with a program-record 108 hits, led off with a double and then moved to third on junior Ethan O’Donnell’s single. Gelof followed with a fielder’s choice that scored O’Ferrall.
After that outburst, though, the Cavaliers didn’t record another hit until the bottom of the seventh, when sophomore Ethan Anderson’s home run cut TCU’s lead to 3-2. Each team scored a run in the eighth, UVA’s coming on an RBI groundout by O’Donnell. The Horned Frogs used three pitchers, starting with right-hander Sam Stoutenborough, who worked 4.2 innings before giving way to closer Garrett Wright, a second-team All-Big 12 selection.
Virginia started junior left-hander Connelly Early, who allowed two runs in five innings. Graduate student Brian Edgington, in only his third relief appearance of the season, gave up five hits and two runs. The Cavaliers’ final two pitchers, freshman Bradley Hodges and sophomore Jay Woolfolk, allowed only one hit between them.
To O’Connor, the difference in the game was that his team “had too many one-two-three innings offensively, that we just weren’t competitive enough in our approach in those at-bats. I thought we did a terrific job managing the innings from a pitching and defensive standpoint.”
TCU left 12 runners on base, and “that’s a testament to our guys,” O’Connor said, “that they buckled down and didn’t let the big inning happen. And that gave us a chance.”
Virginia’s lineup Sunday included four sophomores and two freshmen. For several of the other Cavaliers, however, this was in all likelihood their final college game. That group includes Gelof and Teel, juniors who rank among the finest players in program history.
Gelof holds the program records for single-season home runs (23), career home runs (48) and career RBI (186). Teel was named ACC Player of the Year this season and finished with a .407 batting average. As freshmen in 2021, they helped the Hoos advance to Omaha, but neither had a hit at this MCWS.
Virginia’s juniors in 2021 included Gelof’s brother, Zack, who’s now playing professionally in the A’s organization. Gelof and Teel figure to start drawing paychecks from pro teams this summer, too, but they’ll never forget their time in O’Connor’s program.
“It’s just embedded in my whole family, basically,” Gelof said.
“I just want to thank everyone involved throughout this journey,” Teel said. “I’m so grateful for everything.”
Virginia head coach Brian O’Conner, along with players Ethan Anderson and Connelly Early, addressed the game and the season after the tough loss. Video is courtesy of the NCAA.