Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley sat in the bowels of the U-Va. Baseball Stadium early Saturday afternoon and considered the 4-2 win his team had just completed against Virginia, the top seed in this NCAA tournament regional. He was asked what kind of challenge the Cavaliers faced in playing George Mason an hour later with their season at stake.
"It's the guy on the hill with the ball that gives you a chance," Bradley said. "At that point, momentum means nothing."
Virginia was fortunate its guy was Joe Koshansky, a senior captain and ACC player of the year. He pitched nine strong innings, hit a two-run home run and led the Cavaliers to a 7-2 win that kept them alive in this double-elimination tournament and ended George Mason's season.
"I looked at it not so much as a challenge but as something that I took pride in doing," said Koshansky, who improved to 8-3. "I wanted to be there to pick our team up."
Shortstop Mark Reynolds, a second-team all-ACC pick who had been struggling mightily, added three hits, including a three-run homer that sealed the win in the ninth. Kept off balance by Princeton right-hander Ross Ohlendorf in Saturday's opener, the Cavaliers (43-14) responded with 12 hits and five walks against George Mason.
Virginia will play Sunday at 1 p.m. against Vanderbilt, which beat Princeton, 11-1, later Saturday night. It will need to win that game and a 5 p.m. game to force a winner-take-all championship Monday.
Stacen Gant (10-1), a junior right-hander, entered undefeated in his first season as a starter, but he yielded Virginia four runs in 72/3 innings, giving him a 5.40 ERA in his final four starts.
The Patriots (39-19) earned their first NCAA tournament berth in 11 years with record-setting offense and solid fielding, but in losses to Vanderbilt and Virginia they committed five errors and managed only 13 hits.
"I'm disappointed in the way we played here because it's not indicative of the type of team that we are," George Mason Coach Bill Brown said. "We didn't play well. It's not any more complicated than that. I don't know that we ever really gave ourselves a chance to win."
The Cavaliers opened the scoring in the third inning when Patriots shortstop Jeff Palumbo (St. John's) lost Ryan Zimmerman's pop-up in the sun, and Koshansky (Chantilly) followed with a drive over the fence in right-center. They took a 4-1 lead into the eighth, but in the bottom of the inning George Mason put a runner on with one out for No. 3 hitter Chris Looze, who had doubled in his previous two at-bats.
Looze made contact on a check swing and lofted a shallow fly to left that looked as if it would drop in and bring cleanup hitter Nick Shimer to the plate with the tying run. But Reynolds raced back from shortstop and caught the ball with a full-extension leap. Koshansky induced a groundout, and the Cavs were out of the inning.
"That was a big-time play, there's no doubt," Cavaliers Coach Brian O'Connor said of Reynolds's catch.
Reynolds made a similar play in the top of the ninth against Princeton, but at that point Virginia trailed 4-2 after Andrew Dobies and Casey Lambert yielded two runs in the eighth. True to the spirit they have shown throughout this breakout season, the Cavaliers mounted a comeback in their final at-bat, even after Ohlendorf, a projected first-round pick in Monday's major league draft, retired the first two batters.
Kyle Werman singled to right and advanced to third when Tim Henry followed with Virginia's favorite offensive weapon, the bunt single. Princeton brought in reliever Brian Kappel and Henry stole second base, giving Reynolds the chance to tie the score with a base hit. However, Reynolds popped out to the first baseman in foul territory.