OMAHA — The stands at TD Ameritrade Park had long since begun to empty, only the diehards sticking around for Tuesday's marathon between Virginia and TCU that stretched into Wednesday. The scoreboard had to be reset and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" had to be played a second time as the clock neared 1 a.m. on the East Coast and zeroes piled up.
Two starting pitchers navigated through jams. Two all-American closers pitched almost flawlessly, and well beyond their normal limit. Two center fielders exchanged spectacular plays to keep the score tied in extra innings. Two coaches went deep into their reserves on an evening that nearly became the longest in College World Series history.
And then, after Virginia went nine innings between runs and without a hit for 15 consecutive at-bats, the Cavaliers stormed from the third base dugout to celebrate a walk-off win for the second time in as many games.
Virginia defeated TCU, 3-2, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 15th on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Daniel Pinero that scored pinch runner Thomas Woodruff, who came in after catcher Nate Irving opened the inning with a ground-rule double to left off Horned Frogs reliever Trey Teakell, the losing pitcher for the first time this season.
“I was hoping the next time they played [“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”], they played take me to bed,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said. “It was just a matter of somebody finding a break.”
The Cavaliers (51-14) will face the winner of an elimination game between TCU (48-17) and Mississippi (47-20) on Friday night, needing just one win to reach this event's championship series.
To get there, though, Virginia needed contributions from across its roster, from both its stars and unlikely sources.
Starter Brandon Waddell, who took the mound nearly five hours earlier with the temperature still hovering around 90, gave up two runs in the second inning when TCU threatened to turn this matchup of the two remaining national seeds in the NCAA tournament into a rout. But he found his groove, retiring nine-straight batters at one point while rarely cracking 90 mph.
Second baseman Branden Cogswell connected on two leadoff doubles against TCU starter Brandon Finnegan — the No. 17 overall pick in this year’s Major League Baseball draft — and scored Virginia’s first two runs.
Closer Nick Howard came on for Waddell in the eighth and pitched four scoreless innings, matching his TCU counterpart, Riley Ferrell, during his longest outing of the year. Howard then gave way for senior Artie Lewicki, converted from a starter into a reliever during the postseason, and he became the winning pitcher for the second time in this College World Series.
Pinero, meanwhile, got some redemption after two uncharacteristic errors — one of which scored a TCU run against Waddell — and two failed bunt attempts during his pressure-filled final at bat. It scored Woodruff, a seldom used Clifton native who has now scored Virginia’s game-winning run in two consecutive contests.
And then there was Irving, who could hardly believe his fortune when he led off the 15th inning with the first ball to reach the TD Ameritrade Park stands since this event began on Saturday. No team has hit a home run yet during the College World Series, a drought TCU Coach Jim Schlossnagle acknowledged when he opened his postgame news conference by telling reporters, “I’ve got to be careful here before I say some things that I’ll regret. It’s just a travesty what we’ve done to college baseball.”
Said Irving: “When I looked up and saw it bounce in the bullpen, I said to myself, ‘There’s no shot in hell that went over the fence.’”
But it did, and only a few minutes later, the Cavaliers were celebrating again when the public address announcer reminded everyone just how long this game lasted.
“Tonight, we bid you good morning,” he said.
Note: Earlier Tuesday, Ole Miss eliminated Texas Tech, 2-1.