The Virginia baseball team’s come-from-behind victory over No. 7 Louisville on Friday night felt like it could propel the Cavaliers toward the late-season surge needed to break its two-season NCAA Tournament drought.
But losses on Saturday and Sunday diminished those thoughts and instead left the Cavaliers frustrated after a series defeat.
With four ACC series and three midweek games remaining, Virginia has work left to make the NCAA Tournament field. Last week, Baseball America listed UVa as one of the first four teams out of the projected NCAA Tournament bracket.
“There’s no room for error,” junior third baseman Zack Gelof said Sunday.
UVa dug itself an early hole this season, starting 4-11 in ACC play. The Cavaliers (17-17, 9-15 ACC) bounced back with a pair of ACC series victories before dropping two of three games against Louisville.
“It was a good positive on Friday,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I thought we swung the bats well, but we’re in a position that we need to win series, so today we took a step back from that for sure.”
O’Connor’s team sits squarely on the bubble, which is a change from much of his tenure. The Cavaliers were a fixture in the NCAA Tournament after O’Connor became the head coach in 2004, making the tournament in each of O’Connor’s first 14 seasons. The successful run included four trips to the College World Series and the 2015 national championship.
UVa travels to The Diamond in Richmond on Tuesday night to face VCU (21-14, 5-3 A-10) for a midweek showdown against a top-100 caliber foe. Each win carries significant weight for O’Connor’s club as it tries to separate itself from other bubble teams.
Later in the week, the Cavaliers host Duke (16-16, 8-13 ACC) for a three-game weekend series. The weekend starts a winnable late-season ACC stretch for Virginia.
After playing Duke, the Cavaliers face Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech (20-12, 15-9 ACC). That series is no easy task, but the final two weekends come against Wake Forest (12-17, 6-14 ACC) and Boston College (15-18, 5-16 ACC).
Three of UVa’s final four ACC weekends come against teams with a combined 19-43 record in conference games.
Series victories — and potentially sweeps — are possible down the stretch for Virginia. For the Cavaliers to win consistently, however, they need to be “tougher.”
O’Connor and Gelof both emphasized toughness Sunday after two careless fifth-inning errors helped Louisville score five runs in the frame to take a commanding lead in the rubber match. One came on a throwing error by Gelof, which handed Louisville an unearned run.
“We do the reps, you just got to make the plays,” Gelof said. “I mean, everyone’s counting on you to make the plays that we do every day, and they’re routine.”
In the final two games of the series, the Cavaliers weren’t as consistent at the plate as they hoped, and they gave the Cardinals free at-bats. Whether it was through walking hitters or committing errors in the field, UVa wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be to win a series against a top-10 Louisville team.
“They were tougher than us this weekend,” Gelof said. “We came out and won our first ACC Friday night game and then didn’t finish.”
UVa turns its attention Tuesday toward a solid VCU team. The Rams are an impressive 11-3 at home and led by standout freshman infielder Tyler Locklear, who leads the A-10 with 14 home runs this spring. He’s second in the conference with 41 RBI, and he’s batting .336 in his first collegiate campaign.
It’s a winnable game for Virginia, but the Rams aren’t a pushover. VCU is 20-9 since starting the spring 1-5. None of UVa’s remaining midweek games can be penciled in as victories.
Next week, the Cavaliers host Liberty. The Flames demolished Virginia in Lynchburg earlier this spring, winning 10-2. The final midweek game left on the current schedule is a rematch with VCU in Charlottesville. UVa also may reschedule its game against No. 20 Old Dominion before season’s end.
Every game, including midweek action, matters for UVa down the stretch as it aims to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.