Home UVA Baseball Notebook: O’Connor going with Blanco in Game 1, Woolfolk in Game 2

UVA Baseball Notebook: O’Connor going with Blanco in Game 1, Woolfolk in Game 2

jay woolfolk
Photo: UVA Athletics

Brian O’Connor spent the bulk of the spring hoping Jay Woolfolk would develop into being UVA’s #3 starter.

Woolfolk, coming off an eight-plus inning performance in the Charlottesville Regional clincher on Sunday, jumped a spot in line heading into this weekend’s Super Regional.

“After we evaluated Kansas State a little bit, we just felt like the best decision was to go (Evan) Blanco Game 1, like he’s been going most of the year, and Jay earned the opportunity, he stepped up like as good as I’ve seen somebody, and he’s earned that opportunity to start Game 2 for us,” O’Connor told reporters on Thursday, on the eve of Game 1 of the UVA-Kansas State Super Regional series, which begins Friday night.

Woolfolk began the 2024 season as O’Connor’s #3 starter, but was demoted to the bullpen after a run of rough outings in early March – he gave up six runs on seven hits in four and a third innings in a 14-11 win over Miami on March 10, and four runs on five hits in three and a third in an 11-10 win over Wake Forest on March 17.

He didn’t exactly pitch his way back into contention for a starting spot with his work in the bullpen after the demotion, putting up a 5.84 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, with 31 strikeouts and 20 walks in 24.2 IP.

But Woolfolk was dominant in the 9-2 win over Mississippi State on Sunday, holding the Bulldogs to two runs, on a first-inning two-run homer from Dakota Jordan, on eight hits, striking out eight and walking two.

Blanco, a night earlier, got a no-decision in the 5-4 walkoff win over Mississippi State, giving up four runs, three earned, on eight hits in six innings of work, with seven strikeouts and no walks.

The big blow came in the third inning on a three-run homer off the bat of DH Hunter Hines.

“He threw him a middle-middle fastball, and (Hines) made him pay for it,” O’Connor said. “Outside of that, I thought he pitched terrific baseball, and so, we have a ton of confidence in Evan. He’s a bulldog, he’s a competitor, he’s pitched big games for us all year, and he had the experience last weekend of starting the 1-0 game against Mississippi State. So, he’s ready, and you know, looking forward to his opportunity.”

O’Connor on K State

“They have a dynamic offense that puts pressure on you different ways,” O’Connor said, giving as his comparison point Louisville, which led the ACC in 2024 with 105 stolen bases.

Kansas State led all of Power 5 with 135 steals this season.

“Their offensive style, they’ll run a lot, bunt, put pressure on you, but certainly they have plenty of players that can stand at home plate and hit the ball out of the ballpark, too. They proved that last weekend,” O’Connor said.

The K State hitters to watch:

  • Brendan Jones (.303 BA/.923 OPS, 8 HRs, 34 RBIs), who leads the Wildcats with 39 stolen bases (!) in 41 attempts.
  • Kaelen Culpepper (.329 BA/.998 OPS, 11 HRs, 56 RBIs), a projected 2024 first-round MLB Draft pick, has 17 steals in 21 attempts.
  • Brady Day (.325 BA/.961 OPS, 9 HRs, 56 RBIs) has 16 steals in 18 attempts.
  • Chuck Ingram (.284 BA/.843, 11 HRs, 31 RBIs) has nine steals in 14 attempts.
  • Raphael Pelletier (.210 BA/.770 OPS, 9 HRs, 29 RBIs).

The pitching staff has two guys projected to go in the first five rounds of the 2024 MLB Draft.

The closer, 6’2” righty Tyson Neighbors, a projected third-round pick, brings gas out of the bullpen (1-2, 9 saves, 3.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 60Ks/16BBs in 36.2 IP).

“It’s easy to look at their relief pitcher, Neighbors, who is as talented, I think, as anybody in college baseball,” O’Connor said. “He has a wealth of experience. He’s a bulldog. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a great arm and really good off-speed stuff. And you know when, when he comes into the game, whatever game it is this weekend, or previously the whole season, he’s a tough guy to get runs off of. He’s as good as you’ll see out there.”

The #2 starter is 6’1” righty Jackson Wentworth (5-5, 4.11 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 110Ks/25BBs in 81.0 IP), a projected fifth-round pick, who was solid in the win over Arkansas on Saturday night – allowing two runs on seven hits in five and two-thirds innings, striking out three and walking three.

The #1 starter is 6’5” lefty Owen Boerema (6-3, 5.07 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 105Ks/45BBs in 92.1 IP) set as the #1 guy.

Last weekend, Boerema had to be lifted with one out in the fifth with a 9-1 lead in a game that turned into a 19-4 K State rout over Louisiana Tech.

“They’ve got some high-quality starters,” O’Connor said. “You know, anytime you have a strikeout or more than strikeout an inning and and fairly low walks, you’re doing something right. And I know the league that they play in, and it’s a outstanding baseball conference, where they’re going to, you know, face really talented hitters and great lineups and great teams. So, you know, they’ve got a number of left-handed pitchers that have good numbers and good stuff.”

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].