Whatever Griff O’Ferrall was asked to do during his first season with Virginia last spring, he handled it with ease.
O’Ferrall started at shortstop and batted out of the leadoff spot — two hefty responsibilities for a player in his debut campaign — in all 58 of the Cavaliers’ 2022 contests on the way to earning freshman All-American honors from the NCBWA and Perfect Game as well as a nod on the ACC’s All-Freshman team.
“And he’s even better now than he was last year,” UVa coach Brian O’Connor said. “He’s a little stronger and his endurance will be better throughout the year.”
O’Ferrall said what he learned a season ago was just how taxing it can be. He hadn’t played that many games previously, he said, so the Richmond native spent his offseason prepping to withstand the demand of a February-to-June schedule with the hopes of building positively on his standout first go-around with the Cavaliers.
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He hit .308 with a .406 on-base percentage, tallying 70 hits and a team-best 17 stolen bases. But O’Ferrall was just 3-for-20 across his postseason at-bats in the ACC Tournament and at the NCAA Greenville Regional.
“One thing I’ve noticed is a 60-game season is even longer than it sounds,” O’Ferrall said, “so starting hot is what everyone wants to do, but we focused in the fall on finishing and that we’ve got to finish. We’ve got to stay strong and stay consistent.”
O’Ferrall is one of a few key sophomores — along with outfielder Casey Saucke, first baseman/designated hitter Ethan Anderson and pitcher Jay Woolfolk — the Hoos are counting on to keep progressing forward in 2023, and another way O’Ferrall said he’s enhanced his potential impact for this spring is by managing the infield more effectively.
He said he feels that’s one avenue in which he can help UVa replace graduated veterans Devin Ortiz and Alex Tappen, who were considered the leaders of the 2022 squad and who the Cavaliers leaned on for guidance. Ortiz, when he was on the mound or at first base, was a calming presence for the infield and Tappen was trusted in the outfield and throughout the lineup.
“I’m comfortable leading from shortstop,” O’Ferrall said, “especially vocally because there’s so much communication that happens in the infield and I feel like I’m kind of in the middle of it all and it’s comfortable for me to talk with everyone around me. Then obviously, I have [junior third baseman] Jake [Gelof] to my right, which helps because he’s been here and knows it.”
O’Ferrall said in advance of preseason practice, which began Jan. 27, he took time to develop some of those skills.
UVa opens its new season on Feb. 17 against Navy in Wilmington, N.C.
“With me specifically, we’ve really been working on the infielder’s communication,” he said, “because we have a lot of freshmen working in the infield with us. So, at times, it’ll be me and [sophomore second baseman] Justin Rubin and then three freshmen up the middle, so I think getting used to the play styles and the different ways guys process the game [has been important], because every guy is different so probably that and trying to work with each other to build chemistry.”
Said O’Connor: “The experience Griff O’Ferrall had at shortstop last year was really special. To be a true freshman at this level and play every day at shortstop is pretty remarkable and he did a great job with it. … Not only will he perform well this year, but I think he’ll be an exceptional leader in our uniform.”
UVa needs O’Ferrall to become one, too, as this year’s roster if filled with more new players than O’Connor has ever had in his 20 years in charge of the Hoos.
“Especially my class, the second-years, we’ve had to step up,” O’Ferrall said, “and help lead at a young age. Second-years are some of the veterans now with the older guys, but it’s been good.”
As for those other sophomores, Saucke, like O’Ferrall, thrived as a freshman last year while batting .360 with 16 doubles, seven homers and 46 RBI en route to Freshman All-American accolades and a spot on the ACC’s All-Freshman team. Woolfolk was UVa’s top reliever last spring, striking out 55 hitters in 37.2 innings while recording a 2.87 ERA, and finally, Anderson made the most of his at-bats to hit .302 with five long balls and 39 RBI. Rubin played increasingly more in a platoon role as last season went on.