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How will UVA coach Brian O’Connor set up his starting rotation for the regional?

jay woolfolk
Photo: UVA Athletics

It’s sounding like Virginia coach Brian O’Connor is going to go with a combination of Jay Woolfolk and Owen Coady to get through as much of Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener with Penn as he can.

“You see this every year in the NCAA Tournament, depending on how many games you play in the regional, you see teams do some things that maybe haven’t been done all year long,” O’Connor told reporters on Monday.

“We’ll see what we need to do to get through Friday and continue to assess, but those would be a couple of guys, I think, whether that be Woolfolk or Coady, or maybe somebody that hasn’t started much all year, or at all, can run out there, depending on the scenario you’re in,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor, traditionally, as the top seed in a four-team regional, has used his #2 starter in the opener, which would mean, here, going with Joe Savino (2-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 15Ks/9BBs in 22.2 IP) in the Friday noon game with Penn (24-23, RPI: 180).

But this year’s pitching staff has been a work-in-progress all year long. O’Connor really only has one established starting pitcher, Evan Blanco (7-3, 3.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 79Ks/24BBs in 79.2 IP), with Savino coming on of late after having his season debut delayed into April as he recovered from an offseason injury.

O’Connor has had to get through three-game weekend series with Blanco, Savino, as he has been able to build up his innings and pitch counts, and then a staff day on Sundays with Coady (1-1, 5.94 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 29Ks/22BBs in 33.1 IP) sort of just there in the rotation by default.

Woolfolk (2-1, 6.85 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 50Ks/34BBs in 44.2 IP) began the season as the #3 starter, but was demoted to the bullpen in March, and hasn’t exactly done well since (5.84 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 31Ks/20BBs in 24.2 IP).

So, it would be a bit of a gamble to go with really either guy as the starter, but the lack of pitching depth behind them may dictate them being used sooner rather than later.

Your best shot to get out of the regional round is to start 2-0, because even if you lose the third game after a 2-0 start, you only have to have enough pitching to go one more.

A loss in either of the first two games translates to having to come up with enough pitching to get through five games.

Of course, as O’Connor noted Monday, “you have to go 1-0 before you have the chance to go 2-0,” but then, the end goal of this weekend is to get to next weekend.

Get a win with a Woolfolk-Coady staff day, and then you head into Saturday night against the winner of Mississippi State (38-21, RPI: 25) vs. St. John’s (37-16, RPI: 51) with Blanco set to start against the winning team’s #2 guy, and then you have Savino set to go on Sunday either for an elimination game earlier in the day, or the first of what could be two win-and-advance games on Sunday evening.

That’s the scenario that you want if you’re a Virginia fan.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].