After pummeling Louisville 15-5 on Friday night, Virginia found a way to also win the second game of the series, 4-1 on Saturday, in large part thanks to a handful of self-inflicted mistakes by the Cardinals. Louisville desperately needed a series win this weekend, and they now find themselves essentially needing a miracle to make any postseason play. Forget the NCAA, at this time, they don't even stand to make the ACC Tournament, sitting 1.5 games behind NC State for the 12th, and final, spot as precious few regular season games remain.
The latest game was a pitcher's duel for the first three innings, between UVA's Connelly Early and Louisville's Tate Kuehner. Colin Tuft, inserted into the lineup today in place of Harrison Didawick to face the lefty Kuehner, got the first hit of the game as he slammed a 435-foot home run to left center for his first of the year.
Louisville would scratch across a run in the 4th, and they were threatening to score more when Early stranded runners on the corners to end that threat, striking out Patrick Forbes and getting Brandon Anderson to pop up. Louisville managed no extra base hits and ultimately wouldn't threaten to score again for the rest of the game.
Tuft would drive in another run in his 3-4 night, hitting a sharp single to right field with the bases loaded in the 4th. Tuft credited getting an at-bat in the game Friday night as a spark for tonight's performance. "Every single at-bat is a chance to get better, every at-bat is a chance to prove yourself," the second year outfielder said afterward. "Last night sure helped my confidence."
Kuehner was pitching very well heading into the 5th inning and had a career-high 9 strikeouts going before the game unraveled on him. It started when he hit Ethan O'Donnell on a check swing, then continued with a wild pitch and a passed ball against Jake Gelof that allowed O'Donnell to score, making it 3-1. It went from bad to worse, as Kuehner then tried to pick off Gelof at first, the throw got away from Ryan McCoy, and allowed Gelof to get to third. A 109 MPH grounder right at shortstop Christian Knapczyk ate him up, allowing Gelof to score and make it 4-1. In just the 5th inning alone, Louisville hit two batters, walked one, had two errors, a wild pitch, and a passed ball, allowing Virginia to score twice without a hit.
Early was fantastic in only his second ACC start of the season, going six one-run innings and allowing only four total baserunners. "That's the best he (Early) has pitched in our uniform," Virginia Coach Brian O'Connor said after the game. "That's why we got him to come to Virginia, to pitch games like that."
Early was followed on the mound by relief ace Jake Berry, who went the rest of the way with three shutout innings, sealing the game for Virginia and clinching the series with a game to spare. Berry earned his fifth save of the year and saved the Virginia bullpen to go for the potential sweep on Sunday.
Virginia and Louisville will finish their series tomorrow afternoon at 1 pm. The 'Hoos haven't announced their starter yet, but both Jack O'Connor and Brian Edgington will be fresh with plenty of weekend conference experience under their belts.