Is this Virginia’s best offense ever? O’Connor says it has to rank right up there

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Kyle Teel (Photos: UVA Athletics)

Brian O’Connor hasn’t gone as far as anointing this year’s team as the best offensive squad he’s coached in his 20 years at Virginia, but the coach will readily tell you it ranks right up there with his greatest.

UVA will be relying on that offense to help it get through the Charlottesville Regional in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, which begins at noon Friday in an opening-round matchup against Patriot League champion Army. East Carolina and Oklahoma battle in the nightcap in the double-elimination tournament (all games will be featured on one of the ESPN platforms).

“I’ve been excited about our offensive ballclub all year and that still holds true,” O’Connor said this week. “I think it’s the depth of the lineup. We have an ability to score at the top to the first half of our lineup, at the bottom of the lineup.

“You can turn the lineup over and when you have guys like (Ethan) O’Donnell and (Jake) Gelof, and then (Kyle) Teel and (Ethan) Anderson and (Casey) Sauke right after that, well that’s a tough combination to have to pitch through, and knowing that they’re going to get up at least four times in a game.”

Virginia’s offense is on pace to become the best in several categories including two of the most important statistics: team batting average and runs scored per game. Presently, the Cavaliers lead the nation in batting average at .334, a percentage point higher than the school record of .333 set by the 1985 club. The 2010 team hit .331.

UVA is producing 9.1 runs scored per game, also better than the program record 8.65, also by the 1985 squad. Last year’s team is presently next at 8.60 runs per game.

Those numbers have helped O’Connor’s team to a 45-12 record and only four losses within the friendly confines of Disharoon Park. Virginia is the nation’s No. 7 overall seed.

The UVA skipper pointed out that Ethan Anderson has been red-hot, hidden behind Gelof’s power and ACC Player of the Year Teel’s consistency. So it is depth, one-through-nine, with players who embrace their roles, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Army coach Chris Tracz (more on that later in the story).

“We’re athletic, we can steal a base when we need to, we can get a bunt down when we need to, but we can also hit the ball out of the park, so I think it’s a multi-dimensional offense that can attack you, depending on what the game is telling us to do in different ways to score runs,” O’Connor said.

Second-year shortstop Griff O’Ferrall agreed that there’s offensive talent all up and down the batting order, and with players accepting their roles, it makes Virginia a well-oiled machine.

“I think when we’re focused and having great at-bats, one pitch at a time, staying true and focused to what our plan of attack is, then it’s very hard to stop our offense,” O’Ferrall said. “We’re really consistent all the way through. Everyone knows their roles and what is necessary for them to make the team, the offense go.”

Jake Gelof

The meat of the lineup is definitely the Gelof-Teel combo, a duo few pitchers can handle. 

“It happened a couple of times this year, I think against Louisville and Georgia Tech, when they intentionally walked me to get to the ACC Player of the Year (Teel),” Gelof chuckled. “I don’t know how many times that’s happened, so it just speaks to the depth. Coach Mac (hitting coach Kevin McMullen) prepared us throughout the whole fall and spring.”

All that depth wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans without discipline, and not only knowing roles, but embracing roles to make this offense click.

It didn’t take Army’s Tracz long to figure that out in his quick study of Virginia.

“They don’t miss-hit many balls, and the ones they miss-hit, those go to the warning track,” the Cadets’ coach laughed. “I’m probably painting this with a broad stroke, but I really believe they understand their identity as hitters and how they connect to the offense, like they can tell in a sense of what the sum of these guys are trying to do.

“Like Gelof, he’s trying to drive runs in. He’s not trying to punch balls through the right side. And you’ve got some guys that are working in the gaps and trying to hit doubles and work through. They’re very disciplined to who they are, which makes them really hard to pitch to because they don’t get outside themselves.”

Tracz was impressed with how Virginia’s hitters don’t have “terrible” at-bats, but they swing hard and aggressive — with a purpose.

For all of Tracz’ comments about Army’s matchup with UVA and about his own team of Cadets, listen to his podcast with Ratcliffe on this site or on your favorite podcast platform, or catch it on YouTube.