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Five out of six ain’t bad: UVA baseball back in the Super Regionals

college world seriesThe dust, literally, had not settled on UVA’s 9-2 win over Arkansas that put the ‘Hoos into the Super Regionals, and already a reporter was asking about the next opponent, ACC rival Maryland.

Brian O’Connor was having none of it.

“I cannot turn the switch that quickly to start considering Maryland. I think it is important at this level to enjoy what we have achieved,” said O’Connor, who has led Virginia into the NCAA Tournament in each of his 11 seasons in Charlottesville, and two appearances in the College World Series, in 2009 and 2011.

The appearance in the 2014 Super Regionals will be the fifth in six years for the Virginia baseball program. The number of Super Regional appearances in program history: five. Yeah, it has become old hat for the fan base, but it’s not lost on O’Connor just what it means to accomplish getting to this stage.

“I am proud. I am really proud of this club,” said O’Connor. “Every club is different. Last year was a team of guys who were unproven and second years trying to push it forward. This team comes in with enormous expectations and managed those really well. To be the regional champions here and to go into another Super Regional is consistent and speaks to the quality of players that were consistently recruiting, it speaks to the consistency of the assistant coaches who remained loyal to the program. I am really proud. I think in sports when you accomplish great things you need to enjoy this, so we will enjoy it and then look forward to next week.”

This year’s UVA baseball squad was ranked #1 in the preseason polls, and spent most of the season ranked at the top of the rankings, but stumbled late, losing a weekend series at Wake Forest and then dropping two of three in the ACC Tournament to fall to the #3 national seed.

With Arkansas from the mighty SEC and a Liberty team that finished the regular season ranked #14 in the national polls in its four-team regional, it didn’t look to be easy for Virginia to get to the next round. The offense was struggling, posting just 4.5 runs per game in that closing six-game stretch. The bullpen was a huge concern, blowing late leads in losses to Wake and Florida State.

So of course the Cavs went out and outscored the regional 22-3 in a three-game sweep of a tough regional field.

It didn’t surprise O’Connor that he got what he did from his team over the weekend.

“This week we had our best week of practice all year. Our guys were really locked in and ready to play great baseball,” the coach said.

Expectations were an issue last weekend and will be again this coming weekend with Wahoo Nation expecting a return to Omaha and feeling that this will be the year that the ‘Hoos will finally bring home the national title. O’Connor acknowledged the weight that those expectations bring to bear.

“It is about winning the thing. If we didn’t win this regional we’d be sitting here, the mood would be different, and we would feel like we failed. Unfortunately, that is level that this program is about. Our responsibility as coaches is to line this thing up and give us the best shot of winning this weekend. We will do the same thing next weekend,” O’Connor said.

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