Baseball Looks Back on Magic Ride
In one word, you can succinctly summarize the Virginia baseball team’s 2009 season:
After five straight NCAA tournament appearances, Virginia reached the pinnacle of college baseball last season, advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., in a thrilling ride that created a wave of Wahoo fever across the Commonwealth.
“The reaction from fans and people around the community has been incredible,” head coach Brian O’Connor said. “It’s amazing to me how many people have come up to me and said how they stayed up late in the night when we were playing in Irvine (Calif.) and they watched all the games on TV. But I also have had many people come up and say they had never really paid attention or watched college baseball before but now they’re fans of college baseball and fans of our program. That’s exciting moving into the future because after the season we had, I believe we can really increase the fan base.”
The 2009 team has the honor of raising the Power of Orange flag prior to the start of the game today and then will be honored in the break between the first and second quarters.
The Cavaliers’ magical ride to Omaha started at the ACC Baseball Championship, where UVa won four games in four days to win the program’s third ACC title and first since 1996.
But that was just the beginning.
UVa faced a daunting road in the NCAA tournament, starting at the NCAA Irvine Regional in Irvine, Calif. UVa opened against San Diego State and soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg. The Cavaliers made a statement by handing the flame-throwing Strasburg his first loss of the season, 5-1.
That momentum kept rolling, as UVa then defeated top-seeded and No. 6 national seed UC Irvine in consecutive games on the Anteaters’ home field to earn the Cavaliers’ first-ever regional championship. UCI entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the national polls.
The Cavaliers’ road to Omaha then went through Oxford, Miss., for a Super Regional matchup with Ole Miss. Despite playing in front of hostile crowds of 10,000-plus each day, Virginia rallied from a game-one loss and grinded out a 2-1 series win to punch their tickets to Omaha.
UVa played on the hallowed grounds of Rosenblatt Stadium, picking up a win over No. 2 national seed Cal State Fullerton sandwiched between narrow losses to eventual national champion LSU and Arkansas. While the Cavaliers were disappointed to not come home with a championship, they still were proud of their accomplishments, which included a school-record 49 wins.
“Our road to Omaha was without a doubt the toughest road of anybody to get there,” O’Connor said. “To go out west and win a regional there, then get back on a plane and go to Ole Miss and then turn around and go to Omaha, it was not only magical, but it was fun. Our players and coaches will always remember what we had to do to get there. That’s what we will remember more and will help build our program more – getting to Omaha and the path that we took to get there.
That buzz from the 2009 season continues today and figures to lead to plenty of excitement when the 2010 campaign approaches. UVa will return 24 of their 29 letterwinners from last year, and every position starter is back, including All-America outfielder Jarrett Parker and first baseman/pitcher Danny Hultzen. But don’t expect the Cavaliers to get caught up in the hype – they will continue to plug away and do exactly what got them to this point.
“In our first team meeting, I stressed to the players that we have to go back what has built this program,” O’Connor said. “We went in depth and discussed the philosophy of the program, the rules and the little details that go into it because I think sometimes people get away from those things when they have success. We just have to go back to the foundation and continue to build.”