STRASBURG, Va. – After dropping game one of the Valley League Semifinals, the Charlottesville Tom Sox (31-18) traveled to First Bank Park to face the Strasburg Express (30-19) with the season on the line. In a back-and-forth affair, Charlottesville stormed back from a 9-4 deficit in the eighth inning with a slew of clutch home runs to preserve the season.
The ‘Sox threatened in the top of the first after a two-out Chris Arroyo (Florida) double, however he was cut down on the basepaths before Charlottesville could capitalize. Strasburg saw its own two-out opportunity in the bottom half of the inning as they loaded the bases. Starter David Utagawa (UC Irvine) bore down to work out of the jam, forcing a soft grounder to third.
The Tom Sox drew first blood in the top of the second as David Wiley (Wofford) drove in Nathan Fink (Florida Southwestern) with an RBI sacrifice fly. Utagawa worked a scoreless bottom half, retiring three straight after conceding a leadoff double.
Despite further traffic on the basepaths, Charlottesville went quietly in the top of the third. Utagawa tossed a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half, collecting a fourth strikeout.
Henry Ford (Virginia) led off the top of the fourth with a line-drive home run to straightaway center, doubling the lead to 2-0. After a pair of infield knocks, Garrett Spikes (Georgia) smacked an RBI double to right field to bring two more runs in. Utagawa continued to deal into the bottom of the fourth, striking out three more Strasburg batters.
Aidan Teel (Virginia) walked in the top of the fifth before Ford smoked a double to left field. Another walk loaded the bases as Charlottesville looked poised to run away with the game. However, with two outs, Wiley drove a ball to left field that was caught inches from the wall as the score held 4-0.
Strasburg began an extended rally in the bottom of the fifth, plating three as they began to time up Utagawa’s pitching. After a string of line drive singles and an RBI sacrifice fly, Utagawa stopped the damage and preserved a thin 4-3 lead.
The momentum fully shifted in the sixth as Charlottesville squandered an opportunity with Spikes on third and one out. In the bottom half, Utagawa exited after 114 total pitches, allowing runners to reach second and third. Arroyo took the mound in relief, allowing a two-RBI double and an RBI sacrifice fly to grant Strasburg a 6-4 advantage as the home crowd roared.
The ‘Sox went scoreless in the top of the seventh as the Express continued to pour on runs. They strung together three more against Arroyo before Fink took over and delivered a strikeout to end the inning.
Now trailing 9-4, Charlottesville benefited from an Arroyo fielder’s choice to slightly narrow the gap but could do no more in the top of the eighth. Fink again took the bump and delivered a scoreless bottom half.
Behind 9-5 with three outs to work with, the ‘Sox began to mount their biggest comeback of the season. It began with yet another no-doubt home run from Ford, his second of the game and his fifth in the last nine games dating back to the regular season. Fellow Cavalier Jacob Ference followed Ford with a bomb of his own to bring Charlottesville within two. Down to the final out with a runner on first, Kyle Edwards (Old Dominion) roped a game-tying shot over the left field wall to silence the Strasburg crowd and knot the game up 9-9.
“It was a 2-0 pitch [over the] heart of the plate that I just saw right out of the hand and put a good swing on it,” Edwards said. “Honestly I wasn’t trying to match [Ford and Ference], I was just trying to put a good swing on it.”
Davian Garcia (FGCU) received the ball for the bottom of the ninth and delivered for Charlottesville, striking out the side to give them a chance to win in extras.
Fink immediately put the ‘Sox in front, knocking an RBI single up the middle to score the automatic runner Arroyo. After a walk to Ford and a double steal to put two in scoring position, Ference gave the ‘Sox some insurance with an RBI single to score pinch runner Sergio Rivera (Florida Southwestern). Garcia again took the mound and dominated, picking up another strikeout and securing a victory for Charlottesville to force a rubber match.
Garcia earned the victory with two complete innings, tossing four strikeouts and two walks while allowing no hits. Utagawa went 5.1 innings with nine strikeouts, four walks, and allowed four earned runs on five hits. Fink, typically an outfielder, played a crucial role with 1.1 innings of scoreless work to allow Charlottesville to storm back.
Offensively, Ford again paved the way for the ‘Sox, going 3-3 with two game-defining solo shots, a double, and two walks. He is now 6-for-15 in the playoffs and hitting .464 with five home runs and nine RBI since July 24. Ference was 2-for-5 with a pair of timely RBI, while Edwards went 1-for-5 on the evening but his one hit was perhaps the most valuable.
With the win, Charlottesville will now host another game three at CHO Airport Field tomorrow night. First pitch for the winner-take-all game between the Tom Sox and Express is set for 7 p.m.
Utagawa’s 114 pitches are a new Tom Sox record.
Charlottesville’s four home runs are their second-most all-time and most since June 16, 2022, against Staunton. They hit three home runs in an inning for the third time in team history and first since July 15, 2021.
Both of Charlottesville’s extra-inning games have come at First Bank Park against the Express, and both have resulted in Tom Sox wins.
Ford’s 10 total bases tied Aidan Teel for the second-most in a single game all-time, after Teel made his mark just three days earlier against Front Royal. The team’s 32 total bases are the second-most in a single game.
The win marks Charlottesville’s 17th comeback win of the season. They have trailed in 55% of their 31 wins on the year. The five-run deficit is tied for their largest overcome this season, joining the first game of the Purcellville doubleheader (7/14, trailed 6-1).
The Tom Sox are now 13-5 all-time in August.