By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On Selection Monday last year, the University of Virginia baseball team learned it had been placed in the NCAA tournament regional in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Two days later, the Cavaliers flew to the West Coast, and that weekend they emerged as the winner of the four-team Lake Elsinore regional.
“There’s advantages to playing on the road,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said. “You pack your bags, they book your flight and you go, and you don’t have to worry about anything else.”
For the school that hosts a NCAA regional, life can be complicated. There are tickets to be sold, meetings to be held, decisions to be made, O’Connor noted Monday at Davenport Field.
Then he paused and smiled.
“That said, I’m so glad we’re playing in this stadium,” O’Connor told reporters.
Defending NCAA champion Virginia learned Sunday night that one of the 16 regionals would be played at Davenport Field. About 16 hours later, the Wahoos learned which teams would be joining them in Charlottesville: Bryant, East Carolina, and William & Mary.
UVA (37-20) is the top seed in the double-elimination regional. Northeast Conference champion Bryant (47-10) is seeded No. 2. East Carolina (34-21-1), an at-large entry from the American Athletic Conference, is No. 3, and Colonial Athletic Association champion W&M (29-29) is No. 4.
The regional opens Friday at 1 p.m., when Virginia takes on William & Mary. Bryant and ECU will follow at 6 p.m.
The Cavaliers , who are 23-10 at home this season, have never played Bryant in baseball, but they face ECU and W&M regularly.
In late February, ECU took two of three games from UVA at Davenport Field, winning 8-5 (in 10 innings) and 6-1. Virginia came back to win the series finale 4-2 and then two days later hammered William & Mary 16-8 in Charlottesville.
As for the regional’s No. 2 seed, “I don’t know much about Bryant, other than admiring them from afar,” O’Connor said. “What I mean by that is, they win a lot of games. They’ve won a lot of games for a handful of years.”
So have the Cavaliers. Until O’Connor took over before the 2004 season, Virginia had never hosted an NCAA regional. Since then, however, he’s built one of the nation’s premier programs.
This will be the ninth time UVA has hosted a regional during the tenure of O’Connor, who with 595 career victories is the winningest coach in program history.
“Early on in our time here, I felt it was important for us to [host regionals] to build momentum in our program,” O’Connor recalled Monday, “and for our fans to really start to understand what postseason baseball is about and how good the competition is this time of year and how difficult it is to get to Omaha. And I just thought it was important to building our fan base.
“Now, I look at it as, this is a reward for our fans. Our season-ticket sales increased every year. These fans come out and support us in all kinds of weather, and it’s great that you have an opportunity to play here again, because it’s a little extra treat to them that you don’t get a chance to do very often in this country. We’re spoiled around here that we’ve gotten a chance to do it quite a bit.”
Junior catcher Matt Thaiss has experienced the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend at home and on the road, and his preference is clear.
Playing at home is “definitely an advantage,” Thaiss said. “Everyone loves sleeping in their own bed. That flight out to Cali, getting adjusted to [the time difference] and things like that last year, that was tough.
“I think it was good for us to experience last year — it made us handle the adversity — but I think you’ve got to appreciate being home. Nothing’s better than playing in front of our crowd at home. There’s a lot of energy. The atmosphere here is great.”
The Cavaliers have made the 64-team NCAA field in each of O’Connor’s 13 seasons as head coach. Four times Virginia has advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“It is easy to take it for granted,” Thaiss said of the program’s success, “but I think the biggest thing here is we don’t take it for granted. You see that year in, year out. Especially the past two years where we’ve struggled in the beginning and we very well could have not made it. But we got things the right way, and we never take it for granted.”
O’Connor said: “It’s been very, very special what we’ve been fortunate enough to do here. It’s been built by a collective effort, really. [Pitching coach] Karl Kuhn and [associate head coach] Kevin McMullan have been unbelievable. I’ve said that many, many times, but it’s true, and I’m going to continue to say it. It’s been a total collective effort by a group of people that have been committed to something and been very consistent to that commitment.”
Ten teams from the ACC made the NCAA field, including three national seeds: No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Miami and No. 7 Clemson. That ties the record for teams from one league in the NCAA tournament.
“It just shows how good the conference is,” UVA sophomore Pavin Smith said, “and every weekend is a tough weekend [in league play]. You can’t take any team lightly, and it gets each team better, playing against the best.”
O’Connor said: “Since I’ve been coaching in this league, by far this is as deep and as talented as this league has been … It’s a very, very competitive league, and the competitiveness of this league, I think, prepares the teams in it to have success from here moving forward.”
Clemson capped an undefeated run through the ACC tournament with an 18-13 win over Florida State in the championship game Sunday in Durham, N.C.
Virginia went 1-2 in Durham. The Cavaliers lost 5-4 to Clemson on Thursday and 10-9 to Wake Forest on Friday before defeating Louisville 7-2 on Saturday night.
“To be able to respond after the two tough losses we had down there in pool play, it shows a lot about our team and how we can overcome adversity and how we can move on from day to day and really play the game the right way,” Thaiss said.
“I want to win `em all, but overall I was happy with our performance in Durham,” he said. “[Clemson] ended up winning the title and being a top-eight national seed, and Wake Forest is a dangerous team in that ballpark.
“In both of those games we fell behind and fought back, which I think is a great quality to have. We didn’t lay down, and we played three errorless games. The reality of it is, in two of the three games we just didn’t get the quality [pitching] start that we need to get in the postseason. Hopefully that changes this weekend. If it changes, we’ll have a chance to advance on. If it doesn’t, we won’t.
“But I was happy with our competitiveness … I think our team played with a lot of fight, a lot of grit. Those are the things that are going to be important for us moving forward.”
The NCAA selection committee paired the Charlottesville regional with the Lubbock, Texas, regional hosted by Texas Tech, the No. 5 national seed. So if the Red Raiders prevail in Lubbock, they will host the Charlottesville winner in a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to Omaha.
CHARLOTTESVILLE REGIONAL SCHEDULE:
Friday: (Game 1) Virginia vs. William & Mary, 1 p.m.; (Game 2) Bryant vs. East Carolina, 6 p.m.
Saturday: (Game 3) Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.; (Game 4) Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m.
Sunday: (Game 5) Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.; (Game 6), Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 4, 6 p.m.
Monday: (Game 7, if necessary) Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 6 p.m.
TICKET INFORMATION: All-session Reserved ticket books are available for $60 for the regional and $36 for a potential super regional. All-session General Admission ticket books are currently on sale for $45 for the regional and $24 for a potential super regional.
All seating in the grandstands, the bleachers along the first-baseline and the left- and right-field bleachers will be reserved. General admission tickets are valid for the grass hillside along the left-field line and for standing room only.
Fans are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, as it is the only way to guarantee they will be able to attend all tournament games.
Fans may purchase tickets online at VirginiaSports.com/tickets. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at (800) 542-8821 or in-person at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall beginning Tuesday (May 31) at 9 a.m.
Customers ordering tickets may pick them up from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall through noon Friday, or at Davenport Field Will Call on game day beginning two hours prior to the first session of the day.
If available, single-session tickets for the regional will go on sale to the public on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon by phone and online. If available, single-session tickets will be $12 for Reserved and $8 for General Admission. Any remaining single-session tickets for a potential super regional would go on sale June 10 at 9 a.m. and will be $16 for Reserved and $12 for General Admission.
Ticket sales at Davenport Field begin two hours prior to the first session each day and end at the top of the seventh inning on the last session each day. Fans may upgrade from General Admission to Reserved on game day, subject to availability, at the Davenport Field ticket windows for $4 per ticket.
For further information on NCAA baseball tournament tickets, please call the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 542-8821 or log on to VirginiaSports.com. Davenport Field will seat 5,001 for postseason play.
PARKING INFORMATION: Parking on game day will be $5 in the University Hall, John Paul Jones Arena and McCue Center lots. Pre-paid parking permits are $15 through the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office and will be valid in the University Hall parking lots.
Parking will be free throughout the tournament in the Emmet/Ivy Garage.