Baseball: UVA hoping to continue smashing home runs in record fashion this weekend

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor has always believed that when it comes to postseason success, players need to elevate their game — that a few individuals must step up and perform on a higher level.

With the way his team has launched home runs this season, certainly there is potential for Virginia to use the long ball to its advantage in this weekend’s NCAA regional at Disharoon Park. The Cavaliers open up play at noon Friday, hosting Penn, with Mississippi State and St. John’s meeting in the nightcap.

UVA’s batting lineup has slapped 20 home runs over its last five games, and the Cavaliers enter the regional ranked No. 9 in the nation in homers with 113 in 56 games. Sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick leads the team in roundtrippers with 23 and needs one more to break Jake Gelof’s single-season school record, which was set last year. Didawick, by the way, has homered at least once in each of his last five games.

“It’s been impressive, the power of which our team has hit home runs with all year long,” O’Connor said this week. “You believe that’s going to continue. I don’t know what the weather’s going to be like this weekend in that the wind is going to be blowing in or blowing out.

“We have a lot of talent and skill, but our approach is right in the way they look at their at-bats and the way they approach the game, so I believe that talent and skill is going to continue. It’s part of who we are and we need to produce in that aspect for us to continue to play winning baseball.”

O’Connor heaped praise on Didawick for his performance this season and how he has grown as a player, that his confidence is at an all-time high.

“To think about back-to-back years, you had Jake Gelof break the home-run record and now you have somebody that’s one home run away from breaking [Gelof’s] record, that’s really special and I’m happy for Harrison. I hope he breaks it this weekend,” O’Connor said.

“I know his approach is to go out there and not intentionally try to do that, but what a great moment that would be if it happened in this stadium in the NCAA Tournament, because he’s worked incredibly hard and he’s a team-first guy.”

O’Connor told a story that explained his description of Didawick’s lack of ego and being more than willing to do his share. The coach pointed out that after a round of batting practice, when it came time to pick up balls, Didawick picks up more balls than anyone else.

“You might say, ‘Well, why is that important?’” O’Connor said. “It just shows how he’s all into what we’re about. He’s not looking for somebody else to do it, he’s going to do it, and I just believe when you have that kind of attitude and that kind of approach, that he game rewards you for being that way.

“He’s not about himself. He’s always about, ‘What can I do to serve the team first,’ and I believe he’s rewarded for that.”