O’Connor on freshman reliever Augustin: ‘He’s got guts’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

When Matt Augustin got the call in Virginia’s bullpen during the seventh inning of Saturday night’s thriller-diller NCAA Charlottesville Regional game against Mississippi State, the true freshman right-hander could feel his 18-year-old heart pounding through his Cavaliers jersey.

UVA trailed 4-2 with one out and the rookie would essentially be facing the top of the Bulldogs’ dangerous batting order with so much at stake. No wonder that Augustin said afterward that, “I kind of blacked out to a point where I don’t really remember what happened.”

That’s okay, because the 6,000 fans that jammed into every nook and cranny of Disharoon Park remember everything, and the freshman made it a memorable late night in Virginia’s 5-4 comeback win (see related story).

Brian O’Connor and pitching coach Drew Dickinson were keenly observing every move, every aspect of their rookie pitcher, but with full confidence Augustin would get the job done.

In fact, before the regional even started, O’Connor and Dickinson had decided they were going to use Augustin come hell or highwater.

“Coach Drew and I talked and decided when it was a big moment in the regional that Matt Augustin was going to be in the game because he’s got guts,” O’Connor said following Saturday night’s win. “He makes big pitches, and that was on full display tonight. He showed not only his ability, but his poise for an 18-year-old is quite impressive.”

Augustin pitched his way out of two tight jams (again, see related story for details) in the seventh and eighth inning, situations that could have easily gotten out of control had the freshman not kept his focus and composure. Instead, he handcuffed the Bulldogs’ hitters and held them at bay until his Cavalier teammates rode to the rescue in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win.

“I’ll tell you this about Matt Augustin,” O’Connor said. “He has a high level of ability. He threw up to 95 miles an hour tonight. I don’t look at him as just a first-year in the program. He’s got really good stuff and what he showed us throughout the year in some ACC games, where we had fallen behind or we were ahead and we gave up a lead, he came in and got the job done.”

O’Connor specifically pointed to a game at Miami in early March when Augustin was injected into the game and locked the Hurricanes down. On the trip home, the coach and Dickinson agreed “that we had something really special there because he had just proved that he wasn’t going to stand for it anymore and that he was going to do out there and do the job.”

Augustin, who hails from Cherry Hill, N.J., was overwhelmed when he trotted from the bullpen in right field to the pitcher’s mound. While it was a moment he had dreamed of, the adrenaline was flowing like a river.

“Honestly, that was probably the best moment that I’ve ever seen,” Augustin said. “The crowd was absolutely electric. It obviously made my heart rate rise, but after the first couple of batters, my heart rate slowed down.”

The closest thing to this moment he had experienced was an appearance in the Diamond Classic his sophomore year back in Cherry Hill.

“But nothing can top this,” the freshman said. “This is awesome.”

Augustin regained his focus, relying on lessons learned by team mental strength coach Brandon Guyer, who was O’Connor’s first-ever UVA recruit and a former major leaguer, who lends a hand with the team. The freshman focused in on an equipment logo on catcher Jacob Ference’s chest just to get himself back on track and to concentrate on his pitches.

Augustin contained Mississippi State and helped save the day — and save bullpen arms — with his performance. Now, Virginia’s pitching staff is in good shape should the Cavaliers need to rely on them to finish off the regional.

Indeed, this freshman is something special. He’s got guts.