CHARLOTTESVILLE — In his offseason, Cayman Richardson focused on devoting himself to daily workouts — never missing a day, always pushing through the grind.
Tuesday night, Richardson, the Virginia junior right fielder, pushed through three disappointing at-bats to deliver the game-winning hit, pushing the suddenly hot Cavaliers to an 8-7 win over VCU in their final home game of the season.
“That’s kind of the thing that keeps you going when you’re having those days,” Richardson said. “If that situation arises, you have to be locked in.”
Richardson, a former Hanover High School star, after an 0-for-3 start to his night, drove the first pitch he saw in the eighth inning through the middle of the infield, delivering a two-out base hit that scored Logan Michaels from second and broke a 7-7 tie.
Virginia (30-21) won for the fourth time in its last five games and claimed its third straight, the first two of which came in last weekend’s big ACC series at No. 9 Louisville. The Cavaliers, fighting for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, end the regular season with a three-game set at rival Virginia Tech, starting on Thursday.
Tuesday, it was another state opponent that took UVA to the wire.
VCU (36-17), which sits a game up on Dayton for the Atlantic 10 regular-season title, jumped out to a 3-1 lead thanks to the continued hot hitting of sophomore Liam Hibbits and a strong start from former Lee-Davis High School star Justin Sorokowski.
Sorokowski, a sophomore right-hander who spent a season at Tallahassee Community College before transferring to VCU, went three innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out three.
Hibbits, who homered against UVA in the Rams’ 3-2 loss to the Cavaliers in Richmond on April 30, hit a two-run shot to right field in the first inning.
“We were ready to go,” VCU coach Shawn Stiffler said. “We just weren’t good in the middle part of the game, both defensively and offensively.”
Tuesday night’s meeting was 3-2 in favor of visiting VCU before Virginia appeared to break things open with a four-run sixth inning, a frame highlighted by senior Cam Simmons’s bases-loaded, one-out, two-run double, an outburst helped by two key Rams errors.
Trailing 7-3 going into the eighth, the Rams struck for four runs, a rally that started with a two-run single through the right side by pinch hitter Hunter Vay.
That set the stage for Richardson, who had gone 9 for his last 21 at-bats and was coming off back-to-back three-hit games against Louisville.
“I didn’t think his first three at-bats were really that good,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor said. “But he’s pretty hard on himself and he wants to win and wants to produce for his team.”
Richardson struck out looking in his first at-bat, then grounded out in the infield the next two times to the plate. But in his fourth and final at-bat, he sent the first pitch he saw back through the middle to score the go-ahead run.
“I was just going up there, trying to find a good pitch to hit,” Richardson said. “It just so happened that it was the first pitch.”
Holding that one-run lead, Virginia turned to senior reliever Riley Wilson.
Wilson, whose brother Tyler was a star at UVA from 2008 to 2011, earned his first career save in his final home game.
The first batter he faced Tuesday was Hibbits, who had homered earlier. But as he ran out from the bullpen, Wilson focused more on looking around Davenport Field, at the hill he sat on watching his brother play, and on people he knew in the stands.
“Honestly I didn’t even know who was in the box,” Wilson said. “ … When I opened up the gate to come out there, I kind of took a second,” Wilson said. “Everything that’s gone on the past five years ran through my head. I almost kind of felt at peace up there.”
Wilson got Hibbits to ground out, then induced a fly ball for the second out, before issuing a four-pitch walk to put the tying run on base. But he struck out junior Steven Carpenter to end the game.