BLACKSBURG – The longest game in either program’s history left Virginia one step closer to a possible return to the NCAA baseball tournament and Virginia Tech one more year away from getting back to the ACC tournament.
Virginia’s Nate Eikhoff laid down a bunt in the 11th inning that scored Cam Simmons with the go-ahead run when Jack Owens, covering first, couldn’t field third baseman Kevin Madden’s throw. The Cavaliers added another run on a double-play ground out, then got a scoreless bottom half of the frame from Andrew Abbott to win the opener of the series, 8-6.
The game took 5:31 to play, making it the longest game ever for either team. The Hokies led 6-2 before their visiting rivals scored eight unanswered runs to win for the eighth time in the last 10 meetings.
“I was just proud of our offensive team, that we hung in there and bounced back and clawed back,” said UVA coach Brian O’Connor. “Our bullpen was outstanding. We didn’t give up any out of the pen and that gave us a chance to win the game.”
After missing the NCAAs last season, UVA (31-21, 13-15) came to Blacksburg hoping for a sweep of their rivals, one that would have them end the regular season with a .500 mark in league play.
Last season, only one team with a losing record in conference games made the NCAA field. The last time an ACC team received an at-large bid despite a sub-.500 record in league play was 2016.
Thursday night, the late rally got them one win closer to that important mark.
The Hokies (25-26, 8-20) came in knowing they needed to sweep Virginia for the first time since 2015 just to have a chance to reach the ACC tournament, something they haven’t been able to do in the past four seasons.
But it was a result 700 miles northeast of English Field that sank the Hokies’ hopes this time around, long before Thursday night’s marathon meeting with UVA after wrapped up.
Boston College’s home win over Notre Dame knocked Tech out of contention for the conference tournament, nearly an hour before UVA’s comeback win would have achieved the same result.
Tech coach John Szefc left English Field without talking to reporters, but Madden and Owens did answer questions.
“I knew it felt pretty long,” said Madden, who went 5 for 6 with two runs scored and an RBI, but was charged with two errors. “When you don’t capitalize on the little things in baseball it usually comes back to bite you.”
The Hokies left 14 runners on base, committed two errors and used eight pitchers in the game.
Things got interesting in the eighth inning, with Tech holding a 6-5 edge. After Virginia’s first two hitters struck out, Nic Kent doubled and Brendan Rivoli was intentionally walked. The duo each advanced on stolen bases. Then, Tech junior Jaison Heard uncorked a wild pitch that scored Kent with the tying run.
Rivoli was called out at the plate trying to score the go-ahead run behind him. After a review determined he had not slid under the tag, the game remained tied 6-6.
In the top of the ninth, UVA loaded the bases with two outs, but Cayman Richardson – one of the Cavaliers’ hottest hitters over the past two weeks and the player who delivered the game-winning hit Tuesday night against VCU – struck out.
In the bottom of the inning, Tech got a one-out double from Madden, but the Hokies couldn’t advance him.
Finally, in the 11th, Virginia broke through with the winning runs.
“Just a lot of ups and downs,” Owens said. “I think we did a good job of staying in it but it didn’t go our way at the end.”
During the week, O’Connor spoke about the importance of Murdock pitching the team off to a good start in the critical rivalry series.
Instead, the Hokies got to Murdock in the first inning, scoring three runs without hitting a ball particularly hard. Madden had an RBI single, junior Tanner Thomas drove in a run with a bunt single, and Holesa, a freshman, added a two-out RBI single to put the home team up 3-0.
Murdock, the former Colonial Heights standout, struggled with his control early, even running out to the bullpen to do some extra work before the third.
It was the third straight rocky outing for Murdock, who is just 1-3 in his last five starts. He labored through four innings, needing 81 pitches and allowing six runs on eight hits.
Virginia did get a pair of runs back in the top of the third inning, but could have had much more. After allowing an RBI single by Brendan Rivoli and issuing a bases loaded walk to Zack Gelof, Seymour struck out Nate Eikhoff and Devon Ortiz to leave the bags full.
Tech went up 6-2 after four innings, before UVA but up three runs in the top of the sixth, a rally keyed by Rivoli’s two-run single to right field. That trimmed the Hokies’ lead to 6-5, and set up the dramatic finish to the long night.
Simmons finished 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, but walked twice and scored the winning run.