Virginia players celebrate after a ninth-inning rally gave them a 3-2 victory… (Andrew Shurtleff / Associated…)
UC Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie was seized by one basic, honest thought while watching Virginia players pile on top of one another in celebration Monday after a ninth-inning rally that sent the Cavaliers to the College World Series.
"That was a little more painful than just losing," Gillespie said.
That agony came after the Anteaters were on the verge of ecstasy.
Irvine, needing one strike to advance, buckled when four consecutive Virginia batters reached base. Chris Taylor's two-run single into center field gave the top-seeded Cavaliers a 3-2 victory and left the Anteaters to ponder the visions of Omaha that had danced in their heads moments before.
"You can picture the moment; you dream about it as a little kid," shortstop D.J. Crumlich said. "One strike away is tough."
The postgame scene was one of disbelief.
"It would be presumptuous to think anything I said made them feel better," Gillespie said. "We're all devastated. I was tremendously proud of how they competed, not just today, but all year. But that's a pretty hollow thing for guys to hear right now."
Irvine spent much of the weekend rattling the Cavaliers (54-10), with a pest-like style. The Anteaters (43-18) scratched out two runs with a little of this and a little of that Monday, as both runs scored on groundouts.
The game was left in the hands of Irvine's ace, Matt Summers, who was brought in to get the last out in the eighth inning.
Irvine took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth and "there were butterflies," Crumlich said.
They may develop into ulcers.
Summers retired the first two batters and had two strikes on David Coleman, who singled.
The game then seemed to change on one pitch. Jared King ripped a single that ricocheted off Summers' left heel. Gillespie checked on his pitcher.
"He took a blood oath that he was fine," Gillespie said. "You expect that from a competitor."
Summers (11-4) walked pinch-hitter Reed Gragnani on four pitches. Taylor then singled on an 0-and-1 pitch.
"A player can only dream of moments like this," Taylor said.
The nightmare was on the other side.
"Being one strike away from your dream," said Irvine pitcher Jimmy Litchfield, who pitched 41/3 innings in relief. "You're up and then you're down. The swing of emotions is really trough."
Whether the ball that caromed off Summers' foot affected his pitching is unknown, even to Gillespie.
"If he was hurt, we won't know until tomorrow when he comes clean," Gillespie said. "His velocity was good. He missed some locations."
Whether the foot bothered Summers or not, Gillespie said, "We did not have a guy we felt comfortable putting in that pressure situation."
The bang-bang loss ended a long weekend in Virginia. The Anteaters lost the first game, 6-0, Saturday and waited out a four-hour rain delay Sunday.
From the moment Sunday's game resumed, the Anteaters seemed in control. Irvine was five outs from elimination Sunday, then rallied for a 6-4 victory, conjuring up memories of Virginia's collapse last season.
The Cavaliers won the opener against Oklahoma, then lost the next two games.
"There was a lot being made about us being the No. 1 seed," Coach Brian O'Connor said. "Could Virginia handle the pressure? You can't hide from it. You just have to attack it."
But Irvine's stretched-thin pitching staff caused more flop sweats Monday. Freshman Crosby Slaught started and went three scoreless innings. Litchfield, also a freshman, gave up only Kenny Swab's home run before leaving with two out in the eighth inning.
Irvine found ways to scratch out runs against starter Will Roberts. Crumlich doubled in the fourth inning and moved to third base on a sacrifice. He scored on Brian Hernandez's groundout.
The Cavaliers helped out in the ninth. Catcher John Hicks' throwing error on a sacrifice try by Hernandez left runners on first and third. Sean Madigan scored when Drew Hillman hit into a double play.
"We felt it was going to come down to a break, and we got a huge one in the ninth," Gillespie said. "Then … well, we know what happened."
Texas A&M advances
Michael Wacha continued his brilliant postseason for Texas A&M, giving up two runs and three hits in 71/3 innings as the Aggies defeated Florida State, 11-2, at Tallahassee, Fla., to advance to the College World Series.
In four postseason outings, Wacha (9-3) has given up only three earned runs in 281/3 innings.
Texas A&M (47-20), which won two of three games in the super regional, reached the CWS for the first time since 1999. Florida State finished 46-19.
Foster reported from Los Angeles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.