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Nick Parker Shines, Virginia Earns Pivotal 2-1 Win Over East Carolina

By Matt Newton,


When he was asked after the game if there was something special about facing East Carolina that brought out his best pitching, Nick Parker tried to deflect the question by crediting the loud environment at Disharoon Park for fueling his performance.

"They're always a good opponent and they always bring a great crowd and we also brought a great crowd tonight, so I think just the mix of that - I mean, it's easy to get fired up for those kind of games," Parker said in the postgame press conference.

It was a good answer, but the numbers don't lie. Nick Parker has now faced East Carolina twice in the NCAA Tournament in his career, once as a member of Coastal Carolina last season and then again on Saturday night for Virginia. In those two games combined, Parker has given up one earned run on eight total hits in 15 innings, striking out 15 batters and earning two big postseason wins.

Virginia also faced East Carolina last season, but the Pirates got the better of the Cavaliers 4-2 and went on to win the 2022 Greenville Regional. In the rematch between the two teams exactly one day shy of a year later, it was the Coastal Carolina transfer who proved to be the difference.

UVA's powerful offense was largely held in check by a solid performance from the East Carolina pitching staff, but the combined efforts of Nick Parker and Jake Berry were just a little bit better, as Virginia earned a hard-fought and pivotal 2-1 victory over East Carolina on Saturday night at Disharoon Park to seize control of the Charlottesville Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

As anticipated, the collision of the passionate fanbases of Virginia and East Carolina produced an incredible atmosphere at Disharoon Park, matching UVA's all-time attendance record with 5,919 fans packed into the ball park. That sellout crowd was treated to a great and entertaining, albeit low-scoring, baseball game.

"A great atmosphere at the Dish tonight," said Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor after the game. "Our fans showed up, so did East Carolina's. That's what college athletics is about. Two teams going at it on the field. Just a really well-played game. Great pitching and defense on both sides."

Both UVA and ECU cruised into this winners' bracket game with comfortable blowout wins on Friday, with Virginia crushing Army 15-1 and East Carolina routing Oklahoma 14-5. But after scoring a combined 29 runs on Friday, the Cavaliers and Pirates combined for just three runs on Saturday night as elite pitching and defense ruled the game.

Nick Parker picked up right where he left off from his last outing against the Pirates, retiring 14 of the first 15 batters he faced. After giving up a two-out single in the first inning, Parker proceeded to retire the next 12 batters in a row.

East Carolina starter Garrett Saylor was almost as good, but did come under some pressure from the UVA bats early in the game. Griff O'Ferrall hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the first and moved to second on a successful sacrifice bunt by Ethan O'Donnell. Saylor got out of the early jam by striking out Jake Gelof and getting Kyle Teel to pop-out.

Another jam followed in the bottom of the second as singles from Casey Saucke and Anthony Stephan and then an ECU fielding error loaded the bases, but Saylor escaped again by getting O'Ferrall to groundout. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities would be a trend throughout the game as UVA went just 2 for 13 as a team with runners in scoring position. But on the other hand, Nick Parker made it so those two RBI were just enough to get the job done.

In the bottom of the third, Virginia broke through to score the first run of the game. Gelof came just inches away from hitting his record-breaking 23rd home run of the season, but East Carolina center fielder Lane Hoover leapt over the fence and brought the ball back into play. Gelof settled for the one-out double and then came around to score on an RBI single from the ACC Player of the Year Kyle Teel.

Parker looked unhittable for three-straight innings before getting into trouble in the top of the fifth as the Pirates put together a two-out rally. Joey Berini hit a single, advanced to second as Parker was called for a balk, and moved to third after Parker was unable to field an awkward chopper back to the mound. With ECU 90 feet away from tying the game, Parker struck out Hoover looking to protect the 1-0 lead.

Garrett Saylor was replaced on the mound in the fifth inning by Danny Beal, who issued a couple of walks, but also struck out Gelof and Casey Saucke to keep it a one-run game.

East Carolina managed to tie the game in the sixth thanks to a miscue by the Virginia defense. Carter Cunningham hit a one-out single and Cam Clonch joined him on base after Parker hit him with a pitch. With two outs, Ryley Johnson hit a single into right field and East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin held Cunningham at third, inadvertently putting Clonch in a rundown as he looked to go first-to-third on the single, thinking that Cunningham was going to score. UVA shortstop Griff O'Ferrall tried to chase down Clonch in the rundown for the final out, but in doing so, allowed Cunningham to score. Virginia failed to cover second base, so at the end of the play, everyone was safe and the Pirates had tied the game. Parker retired the next batter to keep things tied, but suddenly it was a brand new game.

Parker put the finishing touches on his brilliant performance in the seventh inning, striking out Jacob Starling swinging to end the frame. In seven innings of work, Parker threw exactly 100 pitches, surrendering just one earned run on five hits and striking out five batters.

Virginia regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh as Ethan O'Donnell drew a leadoff walk, stole second base, and advanced to third on a Kyle Teel groundout. Ethan Anderson delivered the game-winning hit, singling into right field to score O'Donnell from third base, putting the Cavaliers in front for good.

Virginia inserted 6'10" lefty reliever Jake Berry in the eighth and he picked up right where Nick Parker left off. Berry needed just 11 pitches to retire the side in order in the eighth, including two strikeouts. And then in the ninth inning, with the score still 2-1, Berry took just 10 pitches to record another 1-2-3 inning to secure the save. Berini hit a ball deep into the gap in right center field, but Ethan O'Donnell settled under it and easily made the catch to secure the win.

Both Nick Parker and Jake Berry delivered outstanding performances and the Cavaliers needed every bit of it to escape with the win over the Pirates.

"Runs were hard to come by tonight and that's a credit to both pitching staffs," Brian O'Connor said. "Nick Parker went out and was in complete command of the game and all of his pitches. He looks forward to these moments and you can see that. And Jake Berry came in and was really outstanding as well."

The victory puts Virginia (47-12) into the driver's seat of the Charlottesville Regional as the Cavaliers need to win only one more game to clinch the regional and will have two tries to do so. UVA will face the winner of East Carolina and Oklahoma, who play at noon on Sunday, in the regional final on Sunday at 6pm at Disharoon Park.

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