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UVA Baseball, on the verge of a seventh College World Series, sure has come a long way

Scott German
uva baseball college world series
Photo: UVA Athletics

When it comes to pushing the right buttons, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor has been as close to perfect as possible the last two weekends.

Today, in a Super Regional-clinching win over Kansas State, O’Connor rode the suddenly hot arm of much-maligned Jay Woolfolk to propel the victory.

For the second year in a row, and third time in the last four years, Virginia is headed back to the College World Series.

Woolfolk grinded his way through six and a third innings, while the bullpen once again sealed the deal.

“I’m so proud of them. They played their best baseball the last two weekends,” said O’Connor.

And as any coach would say, O’Connor added, “And certainly we’ve got more to do in front of us.”

But for today, I choose to stay in the moment and enjoy what this program has accomplished in the last 20 years.

Why?

Because I can remember when the home of Virginia Baseball was, well, a dump.

No one really noticed, because few even cared.

Rickety wood and metal bleachers, a few portable toilets, no concessions to be found.
And it served the few hundred (being generous) that bothered to show up fine.

The infield?

Hard as asphalt.

Because it was asphalt covered in recycled AstroTurf brought over from Scott Stadium.

It even still had faded out yard-line markings.

When it was yanked from Scott Stadium, it should have been taken directly to the Ivy Landfill.

Locker rooms?

Well, of course they had locker rooms. Only they were about a half-mile away in the lower level of University Hall.

Now the scoreboard, that was a different story completely.

Think Fenway Park, Boston.

Not the new state-of-the-art scoreboard in center field, but the lower, hand-operated scoreboard at the base of the Green Monster in left field.

If my memory is correct, the Virginia scoreboard simply had Home & Guest.

Yep, that was the state of UVA baseball just a couple of decades ago.

So, with all respect to Coach O’Connor, I just want to soak this in for a few days.

But first, let’s go back to O’Connor pushing all the right buttons.

The last two weekends get the attention, but exactly when things started falling into place for the 2024 team, I’m not sure.

I do know when things weren’t falling in place.

Like the Sunday the pitching staff surrendered 17 runs on 25 hits to an OK Georgia Tech squad.

It sure wasn’t in that first game of the Boston College series played in Fenway Park.

Virginia should have paid the Red Sox after that poor effort.

How about the Luke Hanson and Eric Becker platoon situation at third base?

Today, Becker got the start, but Hanson, patiently waiting in the UVA dugout, came up in the ninth with a pinch-hit rope double down the left field line that broke open the game.

Now, that’s clutch!

And O’Connor going back to Woolfolk as a starter after a couple of, well, horrible months.

Woolfolk, indeed, was not as sharp Saturday as his magnificent eight-inning gem last week against Mississippi State.

But Woolfolk was solid today, and made it into the seventh, gaining his second straight win, allowing three runs while fanning seven Wildcats.

Woolfolk told me on the field during the Cavalier postgame celebration, he credited the last two weeks to O’Connor.

“Coach believed in me, he never lost his confidence in me, when I was coming close to doing just that,” said Woolfolk.

Yep, that’s O’Connor, not just pushing the right buttons at the right time, but not allowing his players to push the panic button over the course of a season.

And don’t forget the UVA bullpen.

The relievers have allowed just one run in the entire NCAA Tournament.

Again, clutch!

Saturday’s attendance was the second consecutive sellout of 5,919.

Makes me think back to ancient Virgina baseball history, the early 2000s, when Virginia Baseball could attract only about half of that attendance figure, the first half, 59.

So, for now, I’m not thinking about Omaha, just the thrill of getting there.

But rest assured, Brian O’Connor sure is giving it plenty of thought.

Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.