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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- As the thunder and lightning crashed and the rain pounded Davenport Field on Sunday afternoon amidst the fifth inning, the nation's No. 1 squad held a 3-0 lead over UC Irvine. Having shut out the Anteaters the day before, the Cavaliers looked like they'd soon seal their ticket to Omaha, an opportunity they'd just missed on their home field last season. But then, four hours and 18 minutes of game delay later, Irvine demonstrated the kind of resilience that their opponents had displayed all season, and notched the 6-4 victory to tie the series at 1-1.
|Virginia's Kenny Swab saw a ball roll past him in the wet conditions, leading to a UC Irvine run in the seventh inning.|
Entering the bottom of the eighth inning, UCI had fought back from the three-run deficit to a one-run deficit. All afternoon, the West Coast team had heard a chorus of shouts and jeers from the Wahoo-heavy crowd (an estimated 4,000-plus returned after the rain delay -- the game was sold out at 5,050 fans). UVa starter Tyler Wilson had thrown two strong innings following the delay, totaling 82 pitches and possibly just as many, if not more, minutes of angst while waiting for play to resume.
Wilson said the delay didn't bother him; he threw some pitches, ate some food, and tried to stay focused. "I felt great when I went back out," Wilson said afterward. "I treated it like another start." Indeed, after walking the first UCI batter, he recorded three consecutive strikeouts before giving up a home run to left fielder Drew Hillman in the sixth.
While UVa didn't want to speculate on what might've been had Mother Nature been kinder, Irvine said they emerged from the rain delay refreshed and ready. "We treated it like a halftime and really came out fired up," Hillman said afterward. Added Anteaters head coach Mike Gillespie afterward: "The rain delay was just what the doctor ordered."
Both days of weekend play had delays: the difference Sunday was that the Anteaters converted almost immediately. Gillespie also replaced starter Matt Whitehouse, who threw 68 pitches over five innings, with freshman Andrew Thurman. He finished out the remaining four innings with four strikeouts, zero walks and allowed only one run.
Throughout the season, UVa has been led by its strong, consistent pitching staff. Entering the game, the Cavs led the country with a 2.27 ERA. Three of their starters -- Wilson, Will Roberts and Danny Hultzen -- were selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft last week, with Hultzen chosen as the No. 2 overall pick.
And when the pitching staff has stumbled, the offense has picked up the pieces, led particularly by the bats of John Hicks, Steven Proscia and David Coleman. Despite a strong showing from Wilson on Saturday, the rest of the pieces just didn't quite fit. UVa center fielder Kenny Swab made a critical error in the seventh inning as a ball rolled between his legs and a run scored. "The field conditions were fine," Swab said afterward, when asked if the rain played a part in the mistake. "It just went through me. I can't let that happen."
Said UVa head coach Brian O'Connor afterward, "Irvine deserved to win the game today. ... [They] came into the weekend hitting .300 for a reason -- they weren't going to be in awe of our guys by any means."
UVa closer Branden Kline entered Sunday with a 1.78 ERA and 17 saves, tied for second in the nation, but gave up two hits and two runs in facing four batters and notching his first loss of the year. The game, a heated second-half battle, showed that Irvine, considered the underdog in this series, may just as likely emerge the winner in Monday's decisive Game 3 as the Cavaliers. That's also assuming Mother Nature decides, for the first time in the series, to let this one play out without interruption.
"Both teams will come out really fired up tomorrow," Hillman said afterward. "There's one game to Omaha."