Virginia loads up the fireworks against Army in NCAA opener

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia opened its own NCAA Baseball regional with a loud bang on Friday afternoon when the Cavaliers pummeled Patriot League champion Army, 15-1, and advanced to Saturday night’s game against East Carolina (6 p.m.).

The largest postseason crowd (5,487) in Disharoon Park history watched joyously as the nation’s top-hitting team exploded for 10 runs in the first two innings, jumping all over Army starter Robbie Buecker, who lasted only two-thirds of an inning (seven hits, six runs) and reliever Tyler Prichard (three innings, four hits, five runs, three errors).

“I thought our approach against their starter was as good as I’ve seen us have in my time against an opening starter in a regional,” said UVA coach Brian O’Connor, in his 20th year at the helm of the Cavaliers.

“I gotta be candid with you. Yesterday, I watched the five shutout innings [Buecker] threw against Arkansas early this year. I saw how he pitched against UNC Charlotte, I saw how he pitched to Kansas State. I felt like we were going to be in for a [battle] today, knowing the character and quality of their team.”

Buecker didn’t have his stuff from the get-go, and Virginia, which leads the nation in team batting average, made him pay. The Cavaliers were well-prepared, knowing Buecker would load up on sliders and change-ups to UVA’s left-handed hitters, and the Wahoos were ready.

What was O’Connor’s dream start was quite the opposite for Army coach Chris Tracz.

“That was the nightmare scenario … the one thing we didn’t want to have happen,” Tracz said of UVA’s 10-0 start. “They’re the number seven overall seed for a reason. Their offense is really dynamic. Robbie [Buecker] has been our Swiss Army Knife, and he’s been great. He wasn’t good today.”

Virginia’s 15 runs were the most it has posted in a postseason game since 2016. The Cavaliers put up six runs before the visiting Cadets could blink in the first inning, the 23rd time this season they have scored five or more runs in an inning.

“There’s just no holes in [UVA’s offense],” Tracz said. “You can’t make mistakes. When you get an opportunity to turn a double play and get out of an inning on a fly ball that landed between three guys, then getting four or five outs against [Virginia’s] offense is going to be a nightmare for anybody.”

For a blow-by-blow account of the Cavaliers’ win, see our game story here.

While UVA’s offense was near unstoppable, the rest of its game was pretty on-the-mark as well. Starting right-handed pitcher Brian Edgington handcuffed the Army batting order, hurling five innings of perfect baseball, allowing no hits and retiring all 15 batters he faced before O’Connor pulled him for reliever Cullen McKay.

“[Edgington] threw a ton of strikes and did a great job of not allowing us any momentum,” Army’s Tracz said.

Edgington, who improved to 8-3 on the season, was in total command, staying ahead of Army hitters, expertly using the outer part of the plate and not giving the Cadets anything over the middle of the plate. His breaking ball was unhittable.

O’Connor surprised the huge home crowd — and even surprised Edgington — by pulling him after five perfect innings.

“No, I did not,” Edgington replied when he was asked if he knew ahead of time that he wouldn’t be returning after five innings. “But, I mean, Coach O’Connor is going to do what’s best for the team.”

O’Connor explained later that he never goes into a game assuming anything or planning anything from the standpoint that “if this happens, maybe we’ll get him out early.” Instead, he reacts to the flow of the game, and because Virginia had control, the Cavaliers’ skipper thinks that perhaps he might need to call upon Edgington again before the weekend is over.

“We’d love to win tomorrow night and love to win the next day and be done with it, but it rarely goes that way,” O’Connor said. “So you’ve got to have some foresight, think ahead of different scenarios that can happen, whether that’s pulling him out of the game and getting a couple of those inexperienced pitches into the NCAA regionals and get them ready for a potential opportunity down the road.”

McKay, Chase Hungate and Jack O’Connor finished the final four innings, allowing only two hits and one run (unearned) for UVA’s 46th win of the season, their 26th win without a loss against nonconference competition and a 33-4 record at Disharoon Park this season.