CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Although the Tigers (5-19) took an early 4-0 lead against number one-ranked Virginia (21-4), they couldn't hold on to their advantage as the Cavaliers came from behind to hand the Tigers an 8-5 loss in the opening game of their two-game series at Davenport Field on Tuesday evening.
Three Cavalier relief pitchers combined to hold the Tigers to one run on three hits over the final six innings as Virginia won for the ninth time in ten games.
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning against freshman righthander Branden Kline. Sophomore centerfielder Ben Winter led off the game with a double down the rightfield line. After he advanced to third base on a fly ball to right by senior first baseman Steve Yarsinsky, he scored the first run of the game when senior rightfielder Kevin Collins lined a single to right. Kline pitched out of the inning when Collins was thrown out trying to steal second base.
In the second inning, the Tigers extended their lead to 2-0. With one out, freshman leftfielder Kurt Wertz lined a hard single to centerfield. After junior designated hitter Eric Weller struck out, junior shortstop Nick Natoli bounced a hit over the third base bag and into the leftfield corner. When leftfielder Phil Gosselin had trouble getting to the ball, Natoli sprinted around the bases and ended up at third base with an RBI triple. Kline retired sophomore catcher Brian Wyman on a line drive to left, ending the inning.
The Tigers rallied for two more runs in the third inning, With one out, Yarsinsky blasted a solo home run deep over the left field fence, giving Towson a 3-0 lead. It was his sixth home run of the season and enabled him to extend his hitting streak to 15 games.
Collins followed with a double to left centerfield to keep the inning going. With two outs, Collins scored on a single to leftfield by Wychock, giving the Tigers a 4-0 advantage. Kline escaped the inning when he picked Wychock off first base.
After shutting out the Cavaliers in the first two innings, sophomore righthander Sean Bertrand ran into trouble in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, freshman designated hitter Stephen Bruno singled to centerfield. When freshman third baseman Chris Taylor doubled into the rightfield corner, Bruno advanced to third base. A sacrifice fly by Gosselin to right field drove in Bruno to cut the deficit to 4-1. Sophomore second baseman Keith Werman followed with a single to centerfield, driving in Taylor to make it a 4-2 game.
Trailing by 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth, the Cavaliers cut into the lead some more. Junior first baseman Kenny Swab led off the inning with a double to left centerfield. When Bertrand walked junior centerfielder Jarrett Parker, the Cavaliers had the tying runs on base. A sacrifice bunt by senior shortstop Tyler Cannon moved both runners into scoring position with one out.
Sophomore catcher John Hicks drove home Swab with an RBI single to centerfield, cutting the Tigers' lead to 4-3. Winter made a great attempt at a shoestring catch but it was ruled a hit and Parker had to remain at second base. Parker moved over to third base when Bruno was retired on a fly ball to right. Bertrand pitched out of the inning when Taylor grounded out to Natoli at shortstop, ending the inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, the Tigers added another run off relief pitcher Shane Halley. Wyman led off the frame with a single to centerfield. When Winter singled to rightfield, the Tigers had two runners on base. Wyman advanced to third base on Yarsinsky's a fly ball to right. Wyman scored the Tigers' fifth run of the game when Collins grounded into a force play as Winter was retired at second base. Collins kept the Cavaliers from completing the double play by hustling down the line, allowing Wyman to score. Moments later, Collins was thrown out trying to steal, ending the inning.
Junior righthander Tyler Bugna replaced Bertrand on the mound and immediately ran into trouble in the last of the fifth. Gosselin led off the inning with a single to center. After Gosselin stole second base, Werman blooped a single to right centerfield as Gosselin moved to third base. When junior rightfielder Dan Grovatt drew a walk, Virginia had the bases loaded with no outs.
Swab tied the game at 5-5 when he lined a single to right centerfield. He advanced to second base when Winter tried to throw out Grovatt at third base. Parker gave the Cavaliers a 6-5 lead when he grounded out to shortstop, allowing Grovatt to score. With one out and Swab at third base, the Tigers played the infield in. The strategy appeared to work when Cannon hit a ground ball to Yarsinsky at first base. Yarsinsky threw home to Wyman who chased Swab back to third base. Swab got himself caught in a rundown and did a great job, returning to third base while Cannon reached second base.
A sacrifice fly by Hicks plated Swab to give the Cavaliers a 7-5 lead. Moments later, Bruno lined a single to left field, scoring Cannon to give Virginia an 8-5 advantage. Bruno's single knocked Bugna out of the game. Junior righthander Charlie Cononie came out of the bullpen to relieve Bugna. After walking Taylor, Cononie pitched out of the inning by retiring Gosselin on a ground ball back to the mound.
Once the Cavaliers got their 8-5 lead, their bullpen took over. Halley retired the Tigers in order in the sixth inning before sophomore righthander Justin Thompson pitched two perfect innings of relief. The Cavalier pitchers retired 12 batters in a row before Wychock doubled with one out in the ninth inning.
However, junior righthander Kevin Arico pitched a scoreless ninth inning to nail down his ninth save of the season.
"Their guys came in from the bullpen and did a great job shutting us down," said Coach Mike Gottlieb. "We swung the bats very well early in the game but then their relief pitchers took over. Walks were a key to this game. Our pitchers walked eight batters and hit two other hitters. None of their pitchers issued a walk."
Despite some control problems, Cononie pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless relief for the Tigers. He allowed one hit but walked six batters and hit two others. He also threw two wild pitches.
Led by Swab, who went three-for-three, the Cavaliers outhit Towson by an 11-10 margin.
Collins led the Tigers' offense with two hits and two runs batted in. Winter and Wychock also had two hits each for the Tigers.
The Tigers, who have played 22 of their first 24 games on the road, return to action on Wednesday night when they conclude their two-game series against number one Virginia at 5:00 p.m. at Davenport Field.