By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Baseball America’s top-ranked college team left Tuesday for Greensboro, N.C., with an overriding goal: to repeat as champion of the ACC tournament.
In men’s basketball, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski places greater importance on the ACC tourney than does North Carolina’s Roy Williams, whose postseason focus is the NCAAs.
In baseball, Virginia skipper Brian O’Connor‘s philosophy is closer to that of Coach K.
Win or lose in Greensboro, UVa (45-10) almost certainly will be one of the top eight seeds in the next month’s NCAA tourney. Still, O’Connor said Monday, “I think the ACC tournament’s really important. Obviously we’re proud that we won the regular season, but what the ACC considers as the true champion is the conference tournament winner.”
Moreover, O’Connor noted, how a team plays in its conference tourney often “affects the next week and the future. We want to continue to play really good baseball going into the NCAA tournament, so hopefully we can keep that going and have a chance to win an ACC championship.”
The tournament was held in Durham, N.C., last year. Virginia, the No. 6 seed, went 4-0 to capture the ACC title for the first time in 13 years. The Wahoos then won an NCAA regional in Irvine, Calif., and a super regional in Oxford, Miss., to advance to the College World Series for the first time.
“We went out there and we won every game in the ACC tournament, and that was really cool,” junior center-fielder Jarrett Parker recalled this week. “I think it helped get the ball rolling to go into the postseason, so it was great.”
UVa, No. 1 seed, is one of four teams in the ACC tourney’s Division A and will play at least three games at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro.
Virginia opens against No. 8 seed Boston College at noon Wednesday and then faces No. 5 seed Florida State at 4 p.m. Thursday. The Cavaliers are off Friday, then meet No. 4 seed Miami at noon Saturday.
Division B comprises No. 2 seed Clemson, No. 3 seed Georgia Tech, No. 6 seed Virginia Tech and No. 7 seed N.C. State. The division winners will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday for the ACC title.
Virginia’s 23-7 record in ACC games was the best of any team during the regular season. Another team may be crowned conference champion Sunday, but that would not diminish UVa’s regular-season feat.
“It’s a full body of work over 30 baseball games over 10 weekends in what I feel is the best college baseball conference in the country,” O’Connor said.
“Believe me, we’re going to do everything we can to win the ACC tournament, but winning the regular season is a really tremendous accomplishment and something we’re proud of. Now that’s over, and that’s given us the No. 1 seed in this tournament and also put us in a great position NCAA-wise. That’s why the regular season is important, and now we’ve got to turn our attention to try to win a tournament every weekend from here on out.”
O’Connor plans to start junior Cody Winiarski (5-0, 4.23 ERA) against BC, junior Robert Morey (9-2, 3.14) versus FSU and sophomore Danny Hultzen (8-1, 2.08) against Miami.
All-ACC selections were announced Monday, and Morey was named to the second team. Hultzen, a first-team pick, also was named ACC pitcher of the year. In all, a school-record seven players from UVa were named first- or second-team.
If the Cavaliers reach the championship game, O’Connor may call on freshman right-hander Branden Kline (4-0, 3.06).
Kline started his first ACC game last Thursday against Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. In five innings, he walked two, struck out three, allowed two earned runs and surrendered three hits.
The Cavaliers’ coach had the postseason in mind when he went with the freshman at Miami. Kline is “a great option for us to potentially start an ACC championship game, or the fourth game of a regional, something like that,” O’Connor said. “Part of the reason I wanted to give him that experience was to prepare for something like that.
“I think he’s a great option, but we will use him out of the bullpen as we need to this week in order to have a chance to play for the title, and we’ll assess it at that time. But if everything works out, I would imagine that he would be the guy I’d looking at on Sunday.”
A year ago in Durham, UVa had opening day of the ACC tournament off. The ‘Hoos then played in the 8 o’clock slot on three consecutive nights.
“I’d rather play during the day,” O’Connor said Monday, “because a lot of times if you’re that last night game, there’s a chance that your game might not be starting until 9, 9:30 at night. I think the schedule’s great.”
In the end, though, the schedule might not make the slightest difference, the ACC coach of the year acknowledged.
“I’ve never really believed in gaining any kind of advantage [from] the time you play or which day’s your day off and things like that,” O’Connor said. “Because look at last year. We didn’t play until the sixth game of the tournament. We played all night games, and we won the championship.”