It’s UVA’s sixth trip to CWS, but for guys like Edgington, ‘Omaha is a mythical place’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor isn’t shy when it comes to telling prospects and their families that in his two decades at the helm of the Cavaliers, only two recruiting classes haven’t made it to Omaha, the mecca of college baseball.

Certainly the possibility of making it to the Promised Land caught the attention of UVA’s influx of players in the transfer portal this past year, including pitcher Brian Edgington. The transfer from Elon helped the Cavaliers win the Super Regional over Duke last Sunday, when the right-hander hurled a 12-2 complete game over the Blue Devils.

Edgington and several of his teammates are jacked up about their first College World Series experience. UVA flies to Omaha on Wednesday for an opening-game battle with powerhouse Florida at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.

“I’m very excited,” Edgington said on Tuesday afternoon, just before practice at Disharoon Park. “I think Omaha, to a certain degree, is a mythical place. I’ve never been there, but when we get off that plane, I think it’s probably all going to set in and I’ll realize that this isn’t a dream, that this is reality.”

O’Connor had a short team meeting on Monday to go over the team’s schedule for the first couple of days, what to expect, what Charles Schwab Field will be like, and other pertinent information. This will be Virginia’s sixth trip to the CWS during O’Connor’s era.

“I think it’s just something that you have to experience,” Edgington said in anticipation of the trip. “I don’t really think words can describe what it’ll be like. It’s basically a dream come true.”

Omaha is truly a lure to high school recruits and players in the transfer portal who played in programs that have less of a chance of making it to the CWS.

“I’m proud of the amount of trips we’ve made to Omaha,” O’Connor said. “I think you know how very difficult it is to do. There’s so many programs that are highly funded and certainly we’re one of them, and to be able to reach the pinnacle of our sport, to go to Omaha and compete for a national championship, I’m just incredibly proud.”

The UVA skipper said that while this is the program’s sixth visit, it’s the first for this particular team, so it’s all about the team and what it hopes to accomplish.

“It’s all about them,” O’Connor said. “I will be back as the coach of Virginia next year and for many years to come. But this team, these players that are on this team, this is their opportunity. I’m so excited for them to step on that field.”

O’Connor, having built one of the nation’s top baseball programs, isn’t going anywhere. He’s turned down overtures from some of the best programs in the country over the years, including Friday’s opponent, Florida, and most recently, a couple of years ago when he declined an opportunity to take over at LSU when his mentor, Paul Mainieri, stepped down.

Trips to Omaha are something O’Connor and his coaching staff always drop into the conversation when talking to recruits, a smart tactic in their approach.

“We certainly use and share that with recruits and families when they make the decision to come here,” O’Connor said. “I believe that they make the decision to come to Virginia for three reasons — first, it’s one of the best educations in the country; secondly, they want to play in the Major Leagues, and we take a lot of pride in developing that skill for them to have an opportunity; and third, they want to compete for a national championship.

“When you’ve proven over a number of years that there’s a high-percentage chance that during their time here that they’ll have an opportunity to go to Omaha, that’s something that’s a goal for every young player.”

Virginia, the nation’s No. 7 overall seed, will be taking on No. 2 seed Florida, which brings a 50-15 record to Omaha, the Gators’ first visit to the CWS since 2018. Florida swept SEC rival South Carolina in the Super Regional to earn its spot this weekend.

The Gators are coached by one-time UVA catcher Kevin O’Sullivan, who is in his 15th season in Gainesville. O’Sullivan played at UVA in 1990 and 1991, then returned to Charlottesville as an assistant coach to then-Virginia head coach Dennis Womack in 1996 and 1997.

“Florida is a really talented ballclub in every facet of the game,” O’Connor said. “It’s going to take everything from us to be successful against them, but I believe the ACC prepares us every weekend. This league is a challenge, and you’ve got to play your best baseball. If you don’t, you get swept like we did at Notre Dame.

“The depth of this league, over my time here, has just improved so much. So that prepares you for opportunities like the last two weekends, and certainly prepares us to have success in Omaha.”

O’Connor said that even though Omaha isn’t the easiest place to reach with limited flights and expensive hotels awaiting fans when they get there, he still expects strong support out in Nebraska.

“We’ve always had good support. I know a lot of fans from here are heading out there,” the coach said. “I know the fans of Omaha are familiar with our ballclub, and I expect Friday night in that stadium, that every seat will be sold because it’s a matchup of two really great ball clubs.”