Change in philosophy kicked Virginia baseball team into red-hot mode two weeks ago

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor didn’t wait for the postseason to deliver a message to Virginia’s baseball team. Instead, the messaging began two weeks ago, kick-starting the Cavaliers’ nine-game winning streak, the fourth-longest in the country.

UVA’s skipper admitted the messaging wasn’t his idea, but rather his team’s, and man, has it paid off thus far.

“It was their idea to kind of switch our mode of thinking and playing so-called ‘playoff baseball’ (with two weeks to go in the regular season),” O’Connor said.

The change in approach also resulted in the coach and his staff’s philosophy ahead of the postseason.

“It’s also how you adjust as it’s managing the ball club with that mentality,” O’Connor said. “You’ll see two weeks ago we changed our pitching. It wasn’t a matter of who pitched in our rotation. We basically made everybody available to pitch in every ball game and did whatever we had to do to win the game in front of us, even if we fell behind.”

Normally, O’Connor would reserve that approach for the postseason, but the team has embraced the change with open arms heading into this afternoon’s ACC Championships pool-play game with Georgia Tech (3 p.m., ACC Network, WINA radio). UVA is the No. 2 seed, while the Yellow Jackets, who lost their pool opener to No. 7 North Carolina by an 11-5 score on Tuesday, are seeded 11th. Virginia swept Georgia Tech in the last series of the regular season last weekend in Atlanta, coming from behind in the final two games for the wins.

Virginia will throw right-hander Nick Parker (6-0, 4.42 ERA) against the Jackets.

“Now we’re getting into postseason play and we’ve kind of had that mentality for a couple of weeks,” O’Connor said. “Some of the best years we’ve had at Virginia and ended up going to Omaha, are when we’ve had our backs to the wall and we’ve needed to prove ourselves a little bit, so hopefully that serves us well starting this week and beyond.”

While UVA has been solid most of the season, a little dip late in the season put a blemish on its 44 regular-season wins, the second-most in program history (the Cavaliers have won 45 games four times). 

Each of those teams have been different, and this one is no exception.

“This club is certainly very, very offensive,” O’Connor said. “Certainly one of the better offensive teams that we have had. What separates this team is they’ve really come ready to play every day.

“You know in the sport of baseball, you’re not going to win every game. We have 11 losses against 44 wins, and so you’re going to lose some, but this team, to do what they’ve done in the middle of the week and go undefeated (against nonconference foes), and the success we’ve had in ACC play (Coastal Division champions), you’ve got to put this team up there with some of the best teams that we’ve had.”

O’Connor points to what he describes as great leadership and the fact that this team refuses to give any game away and comes ready to play every day.

“That serves you well when it comes to championship time,” the coach said.

He wasn’t kidding when he mentioned how lethal Virginia’s offense can be. The Cavaliers lead the nation in team batting average at .336 and boast not only the ACC’s batting champion in conference player of the year Kyle Teel, but also Jake Gelof, who is the program’s all-time home run leader (38) and single-season RBI record-holder.

O’Connor said that his team wants to have the opportunity for playoff baseball at Disharoon Park and believes they’ve earned that right in how they’ve performed the past two weeks.

Virginia’s players certainly delivered that message, and hope the NCAA tournament committee got it, too.