CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nearly half of Virginia's baseball victories this season came on the strength of comebacks. For a few minutes Monday, it appeared as if U.Va.'s most dramatic rally would come at the most critical moment of the season to date, but Mississippi State wasn't having it.
More than 21 hours after the soggy second game of an NCAA tournament super regional started, U.Va.'s ninth inning rally was thwarted and Mississippi State won 6-5, eliminating the Cavaliers from the postseason.
After also losing Saturday to Mississippi State, U.Va. picked a bad time to lose two games in a row at home for the first time this season, but Cavaliers' coach Brian O'Connor had no trouble identifying the culprits for his team's demise.
"You cannot win this time of the year unless you pitch and play good defense, and we didn't do that," said O'Connor, whose team took advantage of a ninth-inning error to score two runs, but left two runners in scoring position and missed out on what would've been its third trip in the last five seasons to the College World Series. "That's not a knock on our pitching staff or anything. We just didn't do it."
Rain and lightning caused a game that began Sunday evening to get pushed into Monday afternoon. Picking the game up Monday with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Mississippi State leading 5-3, Poquoson High graduate Kyle Crockett, a left-hander, took the mound again for U.Va., despite throwing 44 pitches Sunday in 2 2/3 innings of relief.
After Mississippi State's Hunter Renfroe led off the seventh Monday with a double and reached third on a fielding error in the right-field corner by Joe McCarthy, his first error of the season, C.T. Bradford scored Renfroe with a single. Bradford's single was the result of a low sinking liner that glanced off the glove of a sliding McCarthy, before scooting past the right fielder.
It was the only run Crockett surrendered in 4 2/3 innings of relief in the game over the course of two days. The insurance run ended up being huge for Mississippi State.
"I always want the ball," said Crockett, who also gave up three hits while striking out three and walking one. "As long as they trust me to go out there, I will go out there and do my best."
Mississippi State, which got 10 strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of relief Sunday from Chad Girodo (8-1), continued to maintain its 6-3 cushion heading into the ninth inning. U.Va. (50-12) would need to come up with its 24th comeback win — and seventh victory when trailing by three or more runs after the fifth inning — to extend its season into what would've been a Monday night deciding game in the regional.
With Jonathan Holder, Mississippi State (48-18) had the advantage of putting one of the nation's best closers on the mound in the eighth and ninth innings. Holder, who entered the game with 17 saves, a 1.17 earned-run average and 81 strikeouts in 46 innings, retired U.Va. in order in the eighth.
In the ninth inning, Kenny Towns led off with a single. Towns advanced to second base on a groundout by Nate Irving. A wild pitch by Holder moved Towns along to third base.
After a one-out walk by Mike Papi, and a strikeout by Jared King, McCarthy came to the plate. He beat out a groundball to third base for a two-out single, bringing Towns across the plate to cut the deficit to 6-4 and put runners on first and second.
Brandon Downes pounded an 0-2 offering from Holder toward first base that was fielded by first baseman Wes Rea. Holder, who was covering first base, was unable to handle a throw from Rea and Papi scored to trim Mississippi State's lead to 6-5.
Downes advanced to second and McCarthy moved to third on Holder's error. Derek Fisher, who was 0 for 4 coming into the ninth inning, couldn't get the game-tying run home, grounding out to third base to end the game. Holder earned his 18th save.
"I think the final innings we played (Sunday) are symbolic of how our year has gone," said Irving, who had a two-RBI double in the sixth inning Sunday off Girodo that cut Mississippi State's lead to 5-3 before the game was suspended. "We never back down from a fight or challenge."
In the two games against Mississippi State, U.Va. showed uncharacteristic breakdowns in the field and on the mound, committing a combined seven errors that led to seven unearned runs. U.Va., which was the No. 6 national seed in the tournament, was charged with three errors and one unearned run in the second game.
Scott Silverstein (10-2), who pitched 3 1/3 innings Sunday in the second game and surrendered seven hits and five runs (four earned) while striking out one and walking three, was credited with the loss in his final college game.
Mississippi State had 30 hits in the two games. Shortstop Adam Frazier went a combined 8 for 11 with five RBI in the regional.
"It is really difficult," said O'Connor of his team's struggles. "I would never say that I'm disappointed in a team, and I'm not disappointed in this ballclub at all. It is frustrating, though."