It hit him several minutes after Friday night's ballgame ended — Brian O'Connor had been here before.
The same emotions, the same frustrations the same disappointment and sadness that his Virginia players were feeling as he sat at a podium answering questions in the belly of TD Ameritrade Park, were felt by him exactly 20 years prior.
"Very similar game as the game that I lost in 1991," O'Connor said, reflecting back on an extra-inning defeat his Creighton Blue Jays had in that year's College World Series. "It's harder as a coach losing a game like this because you want the opportunity for these players to compete for a national championship."
It is an opportunity that will have to wait.
After dueling South Carolina for 13 innings in a CWS semifinal that will go down as one of the national tournament's more memorable games, a pair of extra-inning errors hurt the Cavaliers' chances at proving to the world they deserved their lofty No. 1 national seeding.
In improbable, unexpected fashion, they lost 3-2 on a walk-off E1.
"I mean, it's simple," Virginia pitcher Cody Winiarski said. "Those are plays we practice every day and just didn't execute."
Minutes before, he was on the mound in the bottom of the 13th when South Carolina's Peter Mooney had just attempted to bunt the inning's leadoff hitter, Brady Thomas, over to second base. Thomas had just walked and was looking to get into scoring position.
When the ball got down in front of Winiarski, he picked it up, got his legs tangled underneath him, double-clutched and errantly threw the ball into center field. Runners were now at first and second with no one out.
Then, just when it appeared matters couldn't get any worse, Winiarski tried to pick himself up an at-bat later, when Gamecocks catcher Robert Beary dropped bunt down the third base line. Winiarski picked the ball up, threw it low at the feet of third baseman Steven Proscia and watched helplessly as the ball skipped away. Ruled out of play, the errant throw permitted Thomas to take an extra base.
Thomas jogged home for the game-winning run.
"It's difficult," O'Connor said, asked about propping up Winiarski after the errors. "(On the second bunt) I absolutely take the hit, it's my decision to make what bunt coverage we're supposed to have. … Quite frankly, I went against my baseball book that I use. Typically I collect the out (at first) and we might walk somebody and set up the double play."
The errors came after an already frustrating night on the mound and at the plate for the Cavaliers (56-12).
On the mound, they took a hit early in the game when starter Danny Hultzen had to come out of the game for an undisclosed illness. Three sparkling innings behind him, Hultzen — who had been feeling ill before the game, O'Connor said — was unable to finish an outing that had the makings of a special performance.
Eight of the nine outs he recorded were strikeouts.
"My plan coming into the game was for him to have a short stint," O'Connor said. "He was feeling under the weather. He was gutting it out as best he could."
Once Hultzen left the game, former Poquoson High standout Kyle Crockett entered given the biggest of tasks. He was charged with slowing down an offense that could catch fire at anytime and was threatening to pull away with Hultzen finally out of it.
"We get in the box and it's strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, and the shadows are coming in," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "I'm thinking: 'Wow, he's outstanding.'"
But the Gamecocks (53-14) would find themselves singing praises about Crockett and the rest of Virginia's bullpen, too. In four innings, Crockett struck out three and allowed just four hits and a pair of runs.
"Crockett came in and pitched extremely well," Tanner said.
Despite his somewhat rocky fourth, the left-handed freshman barely was phased by the big CWS spotlight.
"I was calm," Crockett said. "All the coaches have prepared me for the moment. It was a little exhilirating to be out there. Of course it was a little exciting."
Offensively, the Cavaliers stranded 15 runners in the game. Three particular extra-inning frames really highlighted that fact.
South Carolina reliever Matt Price got his team to get out of bases-loaded jams in the 10th, 12 and 13th innings. He got out of the 10th by striking out pinch hitter Reed Gragnani. The 12th ended when he got Kenny Swab to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. And the 13th finished when Price forced John Barr to line a rope right at second baseman Scott Wingo. Catching the ball before Colin Harrington could react at second, Wingo flipped to Mooney, who stepped on the bag just ahead of Harrington's dive.
"There were certainly some fundamental things that we did not do well (Friday) night," O'Connor said. "That (double play) being one of them. You can't get doubled off."
With the win, South Carolina advances into the best-of-three title series where it will face Florida. The Gators won earlier in the day Friday, beating Vanderbilt 6-4 to advance to the championship series.
It will be Florida's second appearance in the final after being swept by Texas in 2005. The Gamecocks won last year's national title.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times