CHARLOTTESVILLE — Five Liberty runs in the second inning brought back memories of the Virginia baseball team’s 10-2 loss to the Flames in Lynchburg this spring. In that March 24 contest, LU scored five runs in the first inning.
On Tuesday at Disharoon Park, the Cavaliers flipped the script.
Despite appearing overmatched through five innings, UVa scored runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to complete a come-from-behind 6-5 win.
“It shows a lot of character,” freshman Kyle Teel said. “To not give up and to keep fighting is really awesome and something we need to continue to do.”
Given Virginia’s status on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the victory over a top-40 RPI team carries significant importance.
“They all matter, because when you win, you have a good, positive feeling about what’s going on,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “We’ve talked a lot about learning how to win and this is one of those games that we found a way at the end of the ballgame.”
Liberty (27-11, 11-1 ASUN) struck first off junior pitcher Zach Messinger. After cruising through the first inning, the Virginia starting pitcher quickly soured as he failed to record an out in the second inning. A single, walk and throwing error by Messinger on an attempted sac bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.
Liberty senior shortstop Cam Locklear knocked a ball directly over second base and into center field, scoring two. Brandon Rohrer then singled down the left-field line to add another run.
With Liberty up 3-0, O’Connor turned to senior reliever Matt Wyatt. He surrendered two runs, the second coming when second baseman Max Cotier booted a routine grounder with two outs. The Flames led 5-0 after two innings. All five runs were charged to Messinger (two earned).
Liberty left fielder Aaron Anderson robbed Teel of a home run in the fourth inning to keep Virginia (20-19, 11-16 ACC) off the board.
“Props to him,” Teel said. “He made a great catch.”
Liberty held a 5-0 lead after five. Then, UVa’s bats came to life.
Cotier singled to open the sixth. He was quickly driven in by senior outfielder Brendan Rivoli, who smacked a double to left-center. Devin Ortiz followed with a hard-hit single that hit the left-field wall on the fly. Teel drove in Rivoli with an RBI groundout to second base.
Trailing 5-2 entering the seventh, UVa tacked on three runs to tie the game.
UVa’s comeback was nearly spoiled in the eighth when Liberty drew two walks off senior reliever Kyle Whitten. O’Connor turned to closer Stephen Schoch with one out and two on. Schoch recorded a fly out before loading the bases with Virginia’s third walk of the inning. He responded with a clutch, three-pitch strikeout.
UVa called on Wyatt, Schoch, freshman Luke Schauer and senior Kyle Whitten out of the bullpen Tuesday. The group combined to toss eight innings without allowing an earned run.
“I thought our bullpen did a pretty good job,” O’Connor said. “Walked too many, I think we had eight walks, but we pitched around it pretty good … and Schoch was really good at the end.”
Teel led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a home run to left that gave UVa the 6-5 lead.
“As soon as I hit it I think I said, ‘Come on, keep going,’” Teel said.
Liberty put the tying run in scoring position in the ninth, but Schoch ended the game with a strikeout.