By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Never mind the series win over then-No. 1 Miami, no matter how important that might turn out to be for the surging University of Virginia baseball team. It was a road trip the Cavaliers would never want to repeat.
On the way from the Miami airport to the team hotel Thursday, driver Bernard Martin lost consciousness behind the wheel of the Abbott Trailways bus carrying the Wahoos. Martin, 72, died later that day after attempts to resuscitate him failed.
“Words can’t really describe what happened,” sophomore pitcher Tommy Doyle said Monday at Davenport Field. “It was a great tragedy. From what I knew of Bernie, he was a great man. His family … is in our prayers.”
Head coach Brian O’Connor, alerted to the situation by pitching coach Karl Kuhn, moved forward and took the wheel after Martin collapsed. O’Connor managed to bring the bus to a stop, but not before it hit three parked cars and a motor scooter and rammed into a chain-link fence outside a house.
“It was all a blur, quite frankly,” O’Connor recalled Monday. “We’re fortunate that nothing else happened. We’re fortunate that we weren’t going at a tremendously high speed. And so all that I could think about was, 1, getting the bus stopped and trying to keep everybody safe and, 2, trying to save Bernard’s life.”
A fence post pierced the bus’ windshield and went through the seats in which O’Connor and Kuhn had been moments earlier, but no coaches or players were injured in the wreck. Kuhn, athletic trainer Brian McGuire and assistant coach Matt Kirby performed CPR on Martin until paramedics arrived.
“If Coach Kuhn was sitting there, if I was sitting there, obviously we’d be talking about even more of a tragic situation,” O’Connor said.
Martin, whose funeral is Wednesday in Lynchburg, had driven UVA’s baseball team to various road games during each for O’Connor’s 13 seasons as head coach. Other constants in the program during O’Connor’s tenure include Kuhn, McGuire and associate head coach Kevin McMullan, all of whom knew Martin well.
“There would be times when he would send me a text message or call and ask if I could leave him and his wife tickets to home games and things like that,” O’Connor said. “He always stayed connected with us … He had a tremendous sense of humor about himself, and [he] and I always kind of ribbed each other back and forth, and we did our kind of normal routine when we got on the bus [in Miami].
“He was a huge fan of not only our program, but I know a lot of [other UVA] athletic programs. A lot of the other teams he drove as well.”
For the Cavaliers’ coaches, O’Connor said, the sudden loss of a longtime friend made it difficult to proceed with the three-game series in Coral Gables, Fla. For the players, O’Connor said, “I’m sure it was pretty traumatic. You’re not in that situation ever. So we talked a lot about it, and how they should handle it, and fortunately we went out and played good baseball.”
Virginia won the series opener Friday night, 6-5, and then lost 9-2 on Saturday night. In the decisive third game, the `Hoos prevailed 7-3 to secure their seventh straight series win over the Hurricanes.
Doyle said the Cavaliers wanted to honor Martin’s memory with their performance against Miami.
“We needed to play for him,” Doyle said.
That the `Hoos held up so well emotionally, O’Connor said, speaks to “the kind of young men that we have in this program. I really believe that. You can never predict what happened [on the bus]. There’s not a script for any of this. There’s not a script for how a season goes. It never goes how you draw it up. I’m just proud of our guys.”
The ACC series win was the second straight for 21st-ranked Virginia (26-17 overall, 11-10 conference), which took two of three games from North Carolina in Charlottesville, April 15-17.
“I think we’ve proved to ourselves that we can compete with these teams,” said junior pitcher Alec Bettinger, who started and collected the victory Sunday afternoon at Miami.
Virginia will look to win a third consecutive ACC series this weekend at Pitt (21-14, 8-9), where the teams will play at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday.
First for UVA, however, comes a non-conference date with Old Dominion (25-15) at noon Wednesday at Harbor Park, the home of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. The unusual start time is due to a change in the Tides’ schedule. They’re hosting a game at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday.
This will be Virginia’s second game with ODU in less than a month. When the teams met March 30 at Davenport Field, the Monarchs rallied for a 5-4 victory that stretched their winning streak over the Cavaliers to four games.
“It’s a beautiful ballpark down there, and ODU is always a tough game,” Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss said Monday. “”They’re a great team, and we’re going to have to be at our best to beat them, like we were this weekend [against Miami] and we were last weekend [against UNC]. Nothing really changes.”
The reigning NCAA champion Cavaliers have, uncharacteristically, dropped several midweek games this season, and a win Tuesday would improve their postseason rÃ©sumÃ©. Still, O’Connor said, he’s placing no extra emphasis on this game.
“I haven’t tried to put any of that kind of pressure on this team,” O’Connor said. “I just tell them it’s the next game, and if we do the job, we do the job. The reality is we’ve got five more games on the road in a row, and then I believe we have seven or eight at home at the end [of the regular season]. If we play good baseball down the stretch, we’ll be in a good position.”
Before they took two of three games from UNC, the `Hoos had dropped three consecutive ACC series. O’Connor hopes his team’s ascent continues. He’s not, however, ready to call the series win over Miami a turning point.
“We’ll find out in the next few weeks whether it was or not,” O’Connor said. “We talked about that after the last weekend against North Carolina: Could this be a weekend that can push you forward? Time will tell. The future will tell us whether it was or not. Certainly the last two weekends we have played a lot more consistent baseball, better fundamental baseball, and if we continue to play like that, we’ll win a lot more often.”