U. Virginia shuts down Georgia Tech in top-5 showdown

By Aaron Perryman and Andrew Seidman

There was no evidence to suggest this would happen. Not against the team that leads the ACC with nearly 10 runs per game. Not against the team that belted four home runs during the previous two games of the series and posted nine runs Saturday.

But during Sunday’s rubber match against No. 2 Georgia Tech (27-5, 12-3 ACC), No. 4 U. Virginia (27-7, 10-5 ACC) held the Yellow Jackets to one measly run on seven hits en route to a 9-1 victory that clinched the series and moved the Cavaliers to just two games back of the Coastal Division lead in the ACC.

Junior pitcher Cody Winiarski worked 5.1 innings of five-hit, one-walk baseball to earn his fourth win of the season in the decisive game that may have postseason implications. Winiarski’s performance and the strong relief pitching of junior Tyler Wilson came after poor outings against N.C. State in Raleigh the previous weekend in Virginia’s first series loss of the season. Given the same opportunity to clinch a series against the Wolfpack, Winiarski sputtered on the mound, lasting only 3.1 innings while surrendering three runs on eight hits.

The right-hander relished another shot at it.

“It’s part of being the Sunday starter,” Winiarski said. “You gotta go out the same mindset every weekend, no matter what the first two games have done.”

A three-run second inning, powered by RBI-hits off the bats of junior center fielder Jarrett Parker and senior catcher Franco Valdes, gave Winiarski a comfortable lead. Although he scattered just two hits and a walk through the first four innings, the junior found trouble during the top of the fifth. After a leadoff single, junior designated hitter Thomas Nichols hit a deep fly ball off the right-center field wall for a double. With runners on second and third and only one out, Winiarski needed to protect his lead.

“Our goal right there was just to trade up outs, ‘cause they only had two guys on,” Winiarski said. “If we give up those two runs, we’re gonna get two outs — out of the inning, and we’re still up 3-2.”
He made no such compromise. Pounding the inside corner with hard fastballs, Winiarski induced two consecutive pop flies to end the inning.

The Yellow Jackets did finally tag the Sunday starter when junior shortstop Derek Dietrich, who hit 4-for-12 with five RBIs and two long balls during the series, belted a one-out home run to deep right that was gone the second it left the bat.

After Winiarski hit the next batter, coach Brian O’Connor turned to Wilson — a move that proved costly against N.C. State in a similar situation. Virginia held a 4-3 lead in Sunday’s game against the Wolfpack when Wilson surrendered a grand slam home run during the bottom of the seventh from which Virginia would never recover.

Wilson, like Winiarski, was eagerly waiting for another opportunity.

“If you don’t want the ball on Sunday in a 3-1 game against Georgia Tech, one of the top-ranked teams in the country, then you shouldn’t be pitching in the ACC, anyway,” Wilson said.

He struck out the first batter, but a line drive to right off the bat of sophomore third baseman Matt Skole put the potential go-ahead run at the plate for Georgia Tech. After junior right fielder Chase Burnette worked a 2-2 count, Wilson fired a 90 mile per hour fast ball high and outside past Burnette’s futile hack to again silence the high-powered Yellow Jacket offense.

Two RBI-singles by junior left fielder John Barr and junior second baseman Phil Gosselin helped double Virginia’s lead during the bottom half of the frame. But that very five-run lead was not safe against Tech the previous afternoon, when the Yellow Jackets overcame a five-run deficit to defeat the Cavaliers 9-7. Therefore, it was imperative that Wilson continue to deliver his best stuff.

The right-hander found himself in another jam during the top of the eighth after allowing a leadoff single and a subsequent walk. With two men on and nobody out, pitching coach Karl Kuhn paid Wilson a visit to the mound.

The set-up man and main innings-eater out of the bullpen responded with three straight strikeouts with a mixture of fastballs and biting sliders. Wilson said he benefited from freshman Branden Kline’s outstanding four innings of relief during the loss Saturday, which gave Wilson much-needed rest. Virginia tacked on three more runs during the bottom half of the inning, and junior Kevin Arico closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.

Virginia acquired its first win of the series Friday night, when two of the best pitchers in the ACC squared off. Although an old-fashioned, low-scoring pitching duel was expected, Virginia won 7-4, plating four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take the lead for good.

Apart from the fifth inning, when Georgia Tech belted back-to-back home runs to take a 4-2 lead, sophomore Danny Hultzen was dominant on the mound, racking up 11 strikeouts while allowing only four hits and two walks.

The seventh inning proved to be the critical juncture of the game. O’Connor decided to leave Hultzen in despite a pitch count that was at 110 and a Jacket team that seemed to be catching up to the southpaw.

“I felt Danny Hultzen going back out there in the seventh inning — he was at 110 pitches — and then going one, two, three that inning really — from a defensive and pitching standpoint — was the story of the game,” O’Connor said. “He gave us a chance. Any time you have to go to that bullpen in the seventh inning and stretch it out that makes it difficult.”

Hultzen — who moved to 5-1 on the year — started throwing more off-speed pitches after the fifth inning once the Jackets started catching up to his fastball.

The Cavaliers used Hultzen’s inspired seventh-inning performance to fuel a rally that would eventually put them ahead for good. Sophomore second baseman Keith Werman got things started with a single to center field. With one out, senior shortstop Tyler Cannon ripped a shot to center, where junior center fielder Jeff Rowland appeared to make a superb diving catch. The field umpire ruled that he dropped it, however, and the Cavaliers gained a sudden burst of momentum. A wild pitch advanced both Werman and Cannon into scoring position. Freshman designated hitter Stephen Bruno then delivered a single through the middle of the infield that scored both runners, giving the Cavaliers the lead again 5-4.

“Stephen Bruno got that single with one out and that was huge,” Cannon said. “It seems like every time you put runners in scoring position for Bruno he gets a hit. He’s a clutch hitter.”

After a second out, Georgia Tech removed junior pitcher Deck McGuire from the ball game after 6.2 innings and put in sophomore Jake Davies. The switch did not yield positive results. Junior right fielder Dan Grovatt instantly added to the home run frenzy with a two-run moon shot to right center field — the fifth total home run of the night — to give the Cavaliers a 7-4 cushion.

Wilson proved to be the common thread in the two Virginia victories, as he struck out the side in the eighth to set up Arico’s 11th save.

“Tyler Wilson bouncing back after last weekend I think was the difference for us,” O’Connor said following Sunday’s victory. “He came in and threw that great eighth inning on Friday night, not any bigger than the innings that he threw today … He’s not gonna do it every time, but how he pitched this weekend is the reason we have so much confidence in him.”

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