The Connecticut baseball team drove through a snowstorm Thursday to make it to Charlottesville, and the Virginia baseball team relied on work from roughly two dozen people to clean its field from snow and ice for a chance to host the Huskies on Friday.
“Boy, our field crew just did an amazing job to get us on this field,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “You wouldn’t have known what the weather was like in Charlottesville 24-48 hours ago with the way that field looked.”
Clearly, both teams were excited for Friday’s return of college baseball after 11 months away from game action.
Each team was amped to compete after last season was canceled due to COVID-19, and it was Virginia (1-0) that outlasted UConn (0-1) in a competitive season opener. Andrew Abbott embraced his role as a starting pitcher, and the offense delivered two early runs to help Virginia open its season with a 2-1 win.
O’Connor kept Abbott on a pitch count since it was the season opener, but the senior took advantage of his 93 tosses. He struck out a career-high nine batters, including four in a row across the fourth and fifth innings. Abbott went 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and yielding one walk.
After allowing a few runners in the opening inning, he induced a double play and settled into the action. Abbott said he felt first-inning jitters but quickly calmed down and returned to his usual form.
“It’s been 11 months since you played a college baseball game, so just kind of getting that going and then getting the team on your back is the best feeling ever,” Abbott said.
With Abbott dealing, the Cavaliers used early runs to take control of the game.
Virginia loaded the bases in the first inning, and redshirt senior catcher Logan Michaels took a pitch to the head to bring in a run. Michaels’ helmet cracked, but he remained in the game after a quick visit from a team trainer.
“Definitely not the ideal way of getting the first RBI of the season,” Michaels said, “but hey, it got the job done.”
The Wisconsin native and former high school hockey player said he’s accustomed to playing through contact.
“I played goalie all the way through youth hockey all the way to high school,” Michaels said. “Definitely used to getting pucks to the head and if I’m stopping the puck and not giving up goals, I mean, I’m happy with it. I’ll take it.”
UVa led 1-0 after the opening frame and Michaels’ RBI. The Cavaliers added a run in the third inning on an RBI groundout by senior right fielder Alex Tappen to take a 2-0 lead. Senior left fielder Marc Lebreux, who started the frame with a single, scored on the out.
A pitcher’s duel broke out in the following innings. UConn’s Ben Casparius, a North Carolina transfer, performed well for the Huskies. The junior gave up the two runs, but went 5 2/3 innings and struck out six batters.
Neither team scored again until the seventh inning, when the Huskies finally put a run on the board. Freshman first baseman Reggie Crawford put his sweet left-handed swing on a pitch from Paul Kosanovich and mashed it over the right-field fence for a no-doubt home run. Kosanovich, a redshirt senior, struck out the first three batters he faced before allowing the long ball.
While UVa didn’t score a run after the third inning, the talented pitching staff delivered.
Kosanovich recorded an out after allowing the two-out home run. Aside from the home run, Kosanovich looked dominant in his limited work, showcasing strikeout stuff. Senior Kyle Whitten backed up the effort in the top of the eighth, retiring the Huskies in order.
Stephen Schoch, a sixth-year senior who recorded five saves in the shortened 2020 season, slammed the door shut in the ninth inning. The right-handed hurler struck out the final two batters of the game to finish off the win.
“It’s great to be back,” O’Connor said. “I told the team after the game, that’s why they play. It’s why we coach, just the emotion, the excitement in your stomach, playing a great opponent and it comes down to a pitch or a play or at-bat. It’s been 11 months and it’s just so great to be back out on that field competing.”
UVa hosts UConn on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the second game of the three-game weekend series. Senior pitcher Griff McGarry is expected to start for the Cavaliers.