CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The Charlottesville Tom Sox (30-17) hosted the Front Royal Cardinals (22-25) in the win-or-go-home rubber match of round one of the Valley League playoffs. The ‘Sox did not lead until the bottom of the eighth inning in which they rallied to secure a 4-2 victory and advance to face the Strasburg Express in the semifinals.
Receiving the start for Charlottesville was righty Mike Eggert (Wofford), who pitched a scoreless first inning of game two before it was suspended. Eggert mirrored his prior outing in Front Royal by quickly retiring the Cardinals in the first at CHO Airport Field.
Eggert set the tone for what would become a pitcher’s duel in Charlottesville, as the Tom Sox went down in order in the bottom of the first. The two teams floundered offensively as their respective starters mowed down the opposition until the top of the fourth.
After a 1-2-3 top of the third, Eggert finally ran into trouble as a collision between outfielders Garrett Spikes (Georgia) and David Wiley (Wofford) led to a triple for Front Royal. The Cardinals quickly capitalized as Drew Camp socked a two-run home run to gain a 2-0 advantage before Eggert was able to stop any further damage.
The ‘Sox responded with an RBI double off the left field fence from Henry Ford (Virginia), however; Charlottesville was only able to halve the lead before stranding runners on second and third.
It felt like a season-ending missed opportunity for the ‘Sox as Front Royal held them at bay for another three innings. Charlottesville saw another opportunity slip away as they failed to convert with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Eggert did everything in his power to keep their playoff hopes alive with a heroic performance lasting into the top of the eighth with no further mistakes. He was remarkably efficient on the evening, totaling four 3-up, 3-down frames out of his eight total innings. He recorded his seventh strikeout of the night in a 1-2-3 eighth as the score held at 2-1.
Down to potentially their last six outs, Charlottesville’s bats roared to life in the bottom of the eighth. Aidan Teel (Virginia) continued his torrid offensive output, knotting the ballgame up with an RBI double to drive in pinch runner Sergio Rivera (Florida Southwestern). The ‘Sox then benefitted from consecutive walks to load the bases, and they capitalized as a soft grounder from Salvy Alvarez (Florida Southwestern) brought Teel in and gave them the lead. Spikes padded the lead with a sacrifice fly to drive in Ford and the ‘Sox led 4-2 heading into the ninth.
Right-hander David Utagawa (UC Irvine) relieved Eggert in the top of the ninth. Despite allowing runners to reach second and third, Utagawa bore down, striking out the side in the inning to secure the 2-1 series victory for Charlottesville.
The red-hot Virginia duo of Teel and Ford paved the way to victory for the ‘Sox, going 2-for-4 and recording an RBI apiece. The pair’s four hits accounted for over half of the offense as Charlottesville only tallied seven total hits.
Meanwhile, Eggert – who posted an 0.85 ERA over nine appearances in the regular season – earned the playoff win with seven strikeouts in eight total innings pitched. Eggert allowed no walks and just five hits as he became the third player to go eight or more innings on the mound in Tom Sox history. Utagawa earned the save with three strikeouts and a walk in the ninth.
With the win, Charlottesville advances to the Valley League semifinals to take on the Strasburg Express in a best-of-three series. Game one commences tomorrow at CHO Airport Field with the first pitch slated for 7 p.m.
Eggert is the first Tom Sox pitcher since 2016 to throw eight or more innings in a game all-time (369 games), joining the late Hayden McCutcheon (9-inning complete game on 7/7/15) and Wil Hartsell (6/7/16, also against Front Royal).
The win marks Charlottesville’s 16th come-from-behind victory on the season. Over half of the ‘Sox’s 30 wins have come in comeback fashion.
The Tom Sox have won 30 games for the fifth time in team history, and fourth-straight season.
Teel led the ‘Sox on offense in the series, going 5-for-8 with six runs scored, five RBI, a double, a pair of home runs, and three walks. Chris Arroyo followed with a 5-for-12 series, scoring three runs and knocking in one.