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Virginia Baseball: Transfers, first-years, offense buoyed by work in weight room

brian gurksy
Virginia left-hander Brian Gursky. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor found an ace and two key relievers in the offseason on the transfer portal.

“We’ve had a nice influx of guys that have helped us on the mound, and we needed it. We lost a lot from last year, and they’ve done a tremendous job,” O’Connor said in an interview this week on the “Jerry Ratcliffe Show.”

Brian Gursky, a transfer from Southern Cal, is 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts for third-ranked Virginia, with 37 strikeouts and 13 walks in 31 innings, and a .223 opponent batting average.

Columbia transfer Will Geerdes has a 2-0 record in 12 appearances out of the UVA bullpen, with a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings, 16 strikeouts, four walks and a .203 opponent batting average.

Dylan Bowers, a transfer from Northern Colorado, has struck out 31 batters in 17.2 innings over a team-high 13 appearances, with a 4.58 ERA and .200 opponent batting average.

“Those young men have made a big impact in our program,” O’Connor said. “Just for all the fans out there to understand the baseball recruiting rules, last year was the first time in about 17 years where a baseball player could transfer from one school to the other and be immediately eligible. We had this rule like basketball did and football did to where you had to sit out a year. So, the transfers weren’t as frequent. Well, when the new transfer rule came into effect, and kids could come and play right away, it just opened up so many doors.”

First-year impact players

griff o'ferrall
Virginia shortstop Griff O’Ferrall. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Shortstop Griff O’Ferrall and outfielder Casey Saucke are the linchpins of a first-year class for O’Connor.

“Griff O’Ferrall, our leadoff hitter, has been our leadoff hitter all year, he’s a true freshman, and playing shortstop, which are two difficult things to do, lead off and play shortstop, as a true freshman,” O’Connor said.

O’Ferrall is hitting .357/.467/.429 out of the leadoff spot, with 36 runs scored, 11 steals in 12 attempts, and four errors in 29 games at shortstop.

“He’s gifted, there’s a skill set that’s good, but I love the way this kid’s wired,” O’Connor said. “Tough kid, high school quarterback, comes from an athletic family, just gets it. His presence and the way he plays, the results don’t surprise me, because I know how he’s wired.”

Saucke is hitting .406/.483/.673 with five homers, 28 RBI, 32 runs scored and five steals in seven attempts.

“Casey Saucke was a really highly thought of recruit in high school that came to us as a third baseman. His transition to an outfielder was because we have a pretty good third baseman in Jake Gelof,” O’Connor said. “Casey has just hit the ground running. We thought the one thing that he could really do coming out of high school is hit. And not only is he hitting for average, he’s hitting for power and knocking in runs.”

Other key first-year contributors: “Ethan Anderson has done a nice job. He’s hit .300 for us playing first base and DH. Colin Tuft has done some DH and played some left field. Justin Rubin has started eight or 10 games at second base and is hitting over .300. So, really, there’s a combination from the offensive side of the ball. There’s about five guys that are first-years that are making real significant contributions. It’s been fun, and it bodes well for the future of the Cavaliers,” O’Connor said.

A fourth day in the weight room is all?

Halfway through the 2022 season, Virginia leads the nation with a .336 team batting average, .443 on-base percentage and 318 runs scored, and ranks fifth nationally in slugging (.549).

“This is the best half offensively that we’ve ever had in our time here as coaches,” O’Connor said. “And the exciting part about it is that it’s not just the home runs, although the home runs have been through the roof, and it’s been a lot of fun, but we also can we also got we’re 41-of-48 in stolen bases. We’ve got some guys in the lineup that can run, we’ve got some good athletes, we’ve got an ability to score runs from different points in the lineup. So, it’s been fun. We haven’t had that many close games because of the offense, but those close games are coming.”

The secret to the sauce: “I believe hitting is a little contagious. When guys are having success, you look to your right and left and say, Hey, this guy is knocking them out, and this guy’s hitting with a high average, well, I kind of need to, too, and it just kind of snowballs. It’s been fun to watch how that self-confidence in what they’re doing has grown,” O’Connor said.

It’s either that, or: “For the first time in our program since we’ve been here, we’ve made a conscious effort through the entire fall for our position players, we switched from lifting weights three times a week to four times a week. We put a more overall emphasis on physical strength more than we ever have. I think that’s been a little bit of a factor as well, and so they’re getting a little bit out of what they’ve put into it,” O’Connor said.

Story by Chris Graham

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