COLUMBIA, S.C. — As Zack Gelof’s eighth-inning solo home run sailed out of Founders Park, Virginia players and coaches momentarily forgot how to act in public.
First-base coach Matt Kirby excitedly ran in a circle, while starting pitcher and Sunday’s star, Griff McGarry, jumped out of the dugout and pounded his chest.
When senior Alex Tappen hit a three-run home run later in the frame to put Virginia up 4-0, the shenanigans continued. Chris Newell popped out of the dugout with a pink towel wrapped around his head, and pitchers in the bullpen started climbing on the outfield wall.
The Cavaliers were excited, having broken open a pitchers’ duel to keep their season alive with their fifth consecutive elimination-game win.
“The Hoos have heart,” McGarry said.
UVA defeated Dallas Baptist 4-0 to force a third and decisive game in the Columbia Super Regional. The two teams will square off Monday at 1 p.m.
While the eighth-inning home runs ensured the victory, McGarry likely will be remembered as the hero of Sunday’s game.
“I want to open it up and just talk about Griff McGarry,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor said.
O’Connor discussed McGarry, a senior, for two minutes and 15 seconds before addressing other aspects of the game and taking questions.
McGarry began the season as a weekend starter before struggling and being relegated to the bullpen before the regional. His ERA of 7.53 entering the game was the worst among UVA pitchers who had thrown at least one inning.
“His spirit never changed,” O’Connor said. “He was excited for his teammates that got the opportunity in front of him, and that’s really hard to do. It’s a really unselfish thing to do when you’re an elite-level prospect like he is.”
Consistently touching 97-plus mph on the radar gun in the postseason, McGarry can be dominant when his command is on point. On Sunday, McGarry brought his best despite a bloody pitching hand that forced him to exit the game in the eighth.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and struck out 10, a season high.
“It’s just amazing what you can do as a person if you just hang in there and keep believing in yourself and you’re willing to make some adjustments,” O’Connor said.
About the only thing McGarry did not do was earn the win as DBU’s Rhett Kouba nearly matched McGarry’s effort. Brandon Neeck, who relieved McGarry in the eighth, was credited with the victory.
Kouba tossed seven shutout frames before the Cavaliers got to him in the eighth. His final line showed 7 1/3 innings pitched and two earned runs allowed.
The Cavaliers took until the third inning to get a hit — a Newell single. He reached scoring position, as the team started to put together good at-bats.
UVA stranded Newell in scoring position in the third, Nic Kent in the fourth, Devin Ortiz in the sixth and Alex Tappen in the seventh.
With McGarry on the mound during that stretch, Gelof kept telling the senior to keep doing what he was doing. Eventually, he felt Virginia would break through at the plate for McGarry.
“Just coming full circle, he’s the guy to do it,” McGarry said. “That was definitely pretty awesome.”
In the eighth, Virginia’s offense surged for four runs behind the home runs by Gelof and Tappen. For the second consecutive day, UVA’s offense only scored in one inning. The Cavaliers scored five in the fifth inning Saturday before losing 6-5.
The ninth wasn’t without drama. Neeck — who relieved McGarry in the eighth — allowed a leadoff single. Senior Kyle Whitten entered for Neeck and loaded the bases with two outs.
DBU sophomore George Specht recorded a fly ball out to right field to end the game.
Virginia and Dallas Baptist will meet Monday at 1 p.m. The winner will earn a spot in the College World Series.
“Just exciting to be alive for another day,” Gelof said.