O’Connor: ‘Excited to see what’s on the horizon for the 2022 Cavaliers’
A year ago this week, Virginia, a preseason top five team, would lose its series opener at #6 Georgia Tech to fall to 11-14 overall, and 4-12 in the ACC.
The ‘Hoos would rally to win the final two games in Atlanta that weekend, and eventually, all the way to Omaha.
A year later, Virginia is off to a program-best 25-3 start and is a consensus top three team nationally.
Coach Brian O’Connor can point to last season to remind his players that a lot can and will still happen between now and June.
“You’ve been covering sports long enough to know that the polls are the polls, and when you’re at the halfway point, the nice thing about the polls is that recognizes what has been accomplished, certainly not a predictor of what is going to be happen, but a recognition of what has been done, which is important. It also impacts excitement around the program, recruiting, fan involvement coming out to the stadium, which, we have flourished in that area so far this year,” O’Connor said Tuesday in an interview for the “Jerry Ratcliffe Show.”
“I’m happy to see it, it’s a nice reward for the work that our guys have done and a validation and, but all we care about is what’s the what’s the number at the end of the year, so that’s what we’re working towards every day. And we’re excited to keep moving forward,” O’Connor said.
Virginia is coming off a big series win over Georgia Tech at Disharoon Park. The Cavaliers lost the opener on Friday, but rallied to win 13-9 on Saturday in Game 2 and 18-9 in Sunday’s Game 3.
The Sunday tilt was played in front of a Disharoon Park-record crowd of 5,286, a figure that O’Connor predicts will be surpassed several times over the next few weeks.
“To walk out on that mound and make a pitching change in the middle of the game and to look around and see people in every seating option possible is just, it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding because you know that you put a good product on the field, you know that there’s a lot of donors and fans that are passionate about having success in our baseball program, and to see that all come to fruition and have the largest crowd ever,” O’Connor said.
“I’m going to make the prediction on your show, Jerry, that we are going to continue to break that attendance record this year. We’ve got some great opponents coming up in April and early May, the weather is going to get better, and I just see us continuing in some of these ACC games to continue to break this record, and I just I want to push it to the end, and I want to try to get us at full capacity at some point this year. That would be really cool,” O’Connor said.
The first chance to break the new record comes Wednesday night against Liberty, which is off to a 17-9 start, and has been ranked for a good part of the first half of the 2022 season.
“I’m concerned about this game tomorrow night with Liberty. They were in the NCAA tournament last year. And I’ll tell you, I talk to a lot of professional scouts all the time, the Major League Baseball scouts, because we’re dealing with them with our players, and they all said that this fall and the early season that they think Liberty’s one of the best teams talent-wise in our region. And so that says a lot. And you know, Liberty started off the year, they beat Florida, two out of three at Florida,” O’Connor said.
The next couple of weeks will be full of tests for Virginia. First, Liberty, then a three-game series at #9 Miami (21-6, 10-2 ACC), then a mid-week home game next week with Old Dominion (20-6), followed by another ACC weekend road series at Pitt (15-11, 5-6 ACC).
“The next two weekends on the road in the league, sandwiched between two really challenging midweek games, it’s going to be a really, really good, challenging opportunity for our team,” said O’Connor, who saw some growth in his team in the Georgia Tech series.
Oak had said ahead of the Georgia Tech series that he expected his team, 23-2 going in, to eventually get punched in the mouth, which happened in the series opener.
“In each of the three games this weekend at Georgia Tech, we gave up runs in the first inning. They either scored two or three runs in each of the three games. And in every all three of the games, we came fighting right back,” O’Connor said. “We just didn’t take the punches, we got right back in there and got right back in the mix, got right back into the game. Those are qualities that I think a team needs to learn, and you don’t know for sure how they’re going to handle it until you see it live. I was excited to see how we fought back and how we battled back and got ourselves back in the game and won two out of three.”
Those were lessons learned by the core of this year’s team this time last year. For that Virginia team to battle back from 11-14 to get to Omaha, it was almost a case of every game being a must-win from early April on out.
“The beginning of this one was totally different than last year,” O’Connor said. “Fortunately, our guys found it down the stretch run last year and flipped that switch and did enough to earn that opportunity. The beginning of this one’s been totally different. That’s why it’s so great to be a college baseball coach, or coach of anything, really, because every group, every year, it’s a different journey. This is my 19th season here, and every one of them has been different and fun and frustrating and unique, all in its own way.
“That’s what makes it special. And as a as a leader of the program, we as coaches, we’re responsible for the pulse of the team, adapting how the team is handled as you go through this journey each year. And they’re all different, and this one’s different and more unique than any of them that we’ve had. In 28 games, we’ve never won 25 of them. So, I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon for the 2022 Cavaliers.”
Story by Chris Graham