When the Virginia baseball team started ACC play poorly, Brian O’Connor warned his team that continued subpar play would keep them at home in June.
On Monday, the final day of May, the team will learn its NCAA Tournament fate. Thanks to a late-season surge, every expectation is that O’Connor’s team will be in the field.
“The spirit of our team and the aggressiveness and the way that we’ve played the last two months is impressive, and I’m really, really proud of this group,” O’Connor said.
After starting conference play 4-12, UVa finished the season 18-18 in the ACC. The Cavaliers followed the regular-season success up with ACC Tournament wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame before a loss to red-hot Duke in the tournament semifinals.
Given the team’s overall record of 29-23 and a .500 ACC mark, the Wahoos are projected to be safely in the field by experts, including those at D1Baseball.com and Baseball America. The most likely seeding for the Cavaliers appears to be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed within a regional.
Projections will finally be pushed aside Monday at noon, when the official field is announced on ESPN2. Then, the Cavaliers can take a moment to appreciate their late-season push before turning their attention toward a regional.
Heading into NCAAs, the team’s confidence is high.
Virginia won six of its final seven ACC weekends, and the team found success at the conference tournament. Andrew Abbott, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in any of his last four starts, gives the team a dominant ace. UVa’s pitching, spearheaded by Abbott, has been stellar all spring. The Cavaliers have held a team ERA below 4.00 for much of the season.
As the Cavaliers eye a postseason run, they know the pitching usually does the job. The starters are reliable and the bullpen is excellent. UVa’s arms held Duke to a 1-for-17 mark with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s losing effort.
“You’re seeing one of the best bullpens in the country, in my opinion, the best pitching staff in the ACC,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “They’re just loaded with veteran guys down there in the bullpen.”
Offensively, the Cavaliers have found a groove. They’ve averaged 6.9 runs in 12 games this month. Several players within the lineup have stepped up, from junior leadoff man Zack Gelof to senior Alex Tappen, who homered twice at the ACC Tournament. Freshman Kyle Teel still paces the team with eight home runs.
Consistency at the plate remains the key to UVa’s success. If the Cavaliers can string together solid at-bats, they’re tough to take down. It’s when the offense sputters against top-tier arms that the losses pile up.
Virginia is 16-4 since April 1 when scoring at least five runs, and three of those four losses came by two runs or fewer. Rarely does UVa allow teams to have big offensive outputs.
“I like where we’re at in all facets, it’s just gonna come down to do we have certain guys that rise up when they get opportunities, especially offensively,” O’Connor said.
Losing in the ACC Tournament on Saturday disappointed O’Connor, but he knows the season isn’t over. UVa, thanks to a special final two months, seems like a lock to make the NCAA field.
The Cavaliers are eager to put the Duke defeat behind them and turn the page toward an NCAA run.
“This team will be ready to go and play really great baseball next weekend,” O’Connor said.