COLUMBIA, S.C. — With all three of its usual weekend starters likely unavailable Sunday, the Virginia baseball team needed unheralded pitchers to lead the team past the host school and the No. 1 seed to remain in the Columbia Regional.
Sophomore Matt Wyatt and junior Brandon Neeck delivered the best outings of their collegiate careers on Sunday to keep Virginia’s season alive.
“I told them after the game, ‘This is one of the great days in our baseball program’s history,’” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said.
Wyatt starred in Sunday’s first elimination game, throwing a career-high five innings and striking out eight. He didn’t allow South Carolina to score a run, and the Cavaliers held on for a 3-2 win after leading 3-0 through five frames.
The Cavaliers followed up the win in South Carolina’s ballpark, which put the program in its first regional final since 2015, with an 8-3 victory over Old Dominion.
UVA needed another win over ODU on Monday to advance to a super regional, but rain forced that game to be postponed until 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Neeck shined in Sunday’s second game after relieving an up-and-down Griff McGarry, who struck out the first six batters of his start before dealing with a cut on his thumb and struggling to find the strike zone.
The left-hander came in for 5ª innings of relief, allowing three hits and two walks. Neeck didn’t allow an earned run and struck out 16. The innings pitched and strikeout totals set career-high marks for the lefty, who missed the 2019 season with a shoulder injury.
“It’s been a long, long journey,” Neeck said.
Neeck’s 16 strikeouts also set a program record for most strikeouts in a postseason game. Between McGarry and Neeck, UVA struck out 24 batters.
Virginia jumped out to an early lead against ODU. UVA scored twice in the top of the first, using Kyle Teel’s RBI single and Nic Kent sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead.
Devin Ortiz added a two-run home run in the top of the third, after a jeer from an Old Dominion fan. A fan shouted that pitcher Tommy Gertner was better than Ortiz. UVA’s designated hitter took Gertner’s next pitch over the left-field fence to give the Cavaliers a 4-0 lead.
Max Cotier’s single in the fifth put the Cavaliers up 5-0 before Old Dominion started taking advantage of a wild McGarry.
Back-to-back home runs opened the fourth as rain started to fall. McGarry struck out the next batter before issuing three consecutive walks. Neeck entered for McGarry and put on a show for the next 4ª frames.
Neeck was exceptional after the Wahoos added a run in the fifth, dazzling the small group of UVA fans who braved the rain with 13 strikeouts.
Neeck ran into trouble briefly in the seventh inning after a runner reached on a strikeout that ended with a wild pitch. A double put runners on second and third.
But Neeck recorded two strikeouts.
Logan Michaels’ added a two-run single for the Cavaliers in the ninth.
Neeck struck out three in the ninth. He tossed 102 pitches. His previous career-high was 50.
“I just had a good feeling that he could keep this thing going,” O’Connor said. “When you’re in the zone and you’re out there and you’re in a groove, pitching like he is, you don’t want to take the ball out of the guy’s hand.”