Virginia hopes to extend nonconference success vs. NCAA field this weekend

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor is encouraging Virginia baseball fans to play hooky from work Friday afternoon and instead spend the time at Disharoon Park, where the Cavaliers open NCAA play at high noon against Army.

UVA spent big bucks to renovate Disharoon five years ago in order to host regional baseball, and O’Connor hopes to draw a capacity 6,000 fans to the stadium where his Cavaliers have been almost impossible to beat. Virginia is 45-12 overall this season, but 32-4 at home, and became the first NCAA team since 2015 (Texas A&M) to go undefeated in the regular season against nonconference play (the Wahoos were 25-0).

East Carolina takes on Oklahoma in the nightcap (see team profiles, brackets and more here). This is a double-elimination tournament, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Super Regional. Should the Cavaliers win their own regional, they would automatically host the Super Regional next weekend.

“We’re expecting a really great crowd this weekend,” O’Connor said Thursday. “Obviously there’s a lot of people working. I’m encouraging everybody in our community to take the back half of the day off and come out and support the Cavaliers against West Point.

“I think sometimes people don’t realize how difficult it is to qualify to be able to host a regional. It’s very difficult to do. You’ve got to be one of the top 15 to 18 schools in the country to be able to do that. So this is a reward to our fans.”

Catcher Kyle Teel, the ACC Player of the Year, said he and his teammates like the fact that they don’t have to travel, can sleep in their own beds and play within the friendly confines of Disharoon, where they are more comfortable and have been so dominant.

“When we played at other places in the past for regionals, we’ve always gotten a good Virginia crowd,” Teel said. “But just being able to have that crowd at home, I’m expecting there to be a lot more people and a lot more energy, and that’s something we love to play in front of as a team.”

Teel is a part of a potent offense that has catapulted UVA to the No. 1 spot in the nation in team batting average (see related story on this site). O’Connor said this has to be ranked “right up there” with the best offensive teams he has coached in his 20 years in Charlottesville.

Still, as good as Virginia has been, O’Connor and his team are taking nothing for granted. He knows how Army’s team battles.

“Any time you play a service academy, you know they’re going to fight until the end,” the UVA skipper said. “You know the kind of young men that wear their uniforms. I mean, geez, they’ll be officers in the Army after they’re done here.”

Army coach Chris Tracz noted how his Black Knights have played well from behind this season, including in their games in the Patriot League tournament (listen to Tracz give an in-depth report on his Army team on our podcast).

The Cadets (38-16) are 8-2 over their last 10 games, and boasted a 15-game winning streak at one point this season. They gave national seed Arkansas an intense battle early in the season and went 21-4 in the Patriot League.

They are led by senior shortstop Kevin Dubrule, who is Army’s version of Virginia’s Teel. He was Patriot League MVP of that tournament, where he went 5 for 6, including two home runs and six RBI.

Tracz said if he had to have one person at the plate in a crucial situation, it would be Dubrule.

Because UVA hasn’t hosted a regional since 2016, none of O’Connor’s present team has enjoyed that experience. 

Pitcher Brian Edgington even transferred from Elon to Virginia in hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament.

“This is the reason why I came to UVA, to have an opportunity to play in the postseason, especially at home,” Edgington said Thursday. “I mean, that’s something I haven’t done in my previous schools. At the end of the day, I came here to win and I’ll do whatever I can whenever my number is called upon. I’m ready to go.”