March 28, 2018
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At 7 p.m. Wednesday, in what has become a rite of spring, Virginia will meet VCU in a non-conference game at The Diamond in Richmond.
The Rams (16-8) are one of the hottest teams in college baseball, having won 12 straight games. The Cavaliers (14-10), meanwhile, will be without two of their best hitters (Jake McCarthy and Cameron Simmons) and two of their top pitchers (Evan Sperling and Chesdin Harrington) — not only Wednesday night, but at Pitt this weekend and for the foreseeable future. Simmons won’t be back at all this season.
Rarely, if ever, in Brian O’Connor‘s first 14 seasons as UVA’s head coach did injuries hit his program as hard as they have this year.
“But that’s OK,” O’Connor said Tuesday night. “That’s where we’re at, and we just need to adapt and figure it out.”
Junior second baseman Andy Weber echoed those comments.
“It’s tough, but at the end of the day you still have to play the games,” Weber said. “You don’t get to take the days off, and so right now it’s a next-man-up mentality and [a question of] who’s going to step up every day. It might be a different guy. It might be the same guy. We’re just trying to keep plugging away.”
The Wahoos took a step forward Tuesday, defeating Longwood 6-0 at Disharoon Park. In his first career start, junior right-hander Grant Donahue pitched five innings and allowed one hit — the Lancers’ only one in this game. Weber and senior left-fielder Charlie Cody had two hits apiece for UVA.
“I was proud of our guys after a very, very difficult weekend on the road,” O’Connor said.
Virginia lost all three games at Miami — two by a single run — to fall to 3-6 in the ACC. The `Hoos are no longer nationally ranked, and their overall record is their worst at this stage of a season during O’Connor’s tenure. Still, this is a program that has made 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, with four trips to the College World Series and one NCAA title, and the Cavaliers aren’t panicking.
“There’s a lot of baseball left to be played,” said Weber, who leads Virginia with a .351 batting average.
“We’ve been here before,” O’Connor said. “Maybe not a record like 14-10, but we’ve been not-so-great in the league a few years. Sometimes that’s come early, sometimes that’s come in the middle. Every year by the end of the year we’ve figured it out. As far as league play goes, we’ve got 30 of these things, and we’ve played nine of them. So we’ve got quite a bit left.”
That said, O’Connor is realistic. “There still needs to be a certain level of urgency, because the season moves along pretty quick,” he said. “We’re going to blink our eyes, and next week we’re going to be into April. Unless you’re playing in the postseason, there’s only two months left.”
It was unseasonably cold in Charlottesville on Tuesday. Rain fell for much of the morning and into the early afternoon, but O’Connor wasn’t interested in rescheduling his team’s game with Longwood (6-16).
The forecast called for the weather to improve as the day went on, and “I wanted to do everything that we could to play, to get that taste out of our mouth after this weekend and get back out on the field,” O’Connor said.
He also wanted to get pitchers such as Donahue and Bobby Nicholson some work. Donahue had not thrown in a game since March 3, and Nicholson, a sophomore right-hander, was coming off a shaky start in the series finale against Miami.
“So I wanted to get him back out there and get him a little taste of success going into next Sunday,” O’Connor said.
Nicholson struck out four and walked two in three innings Tuesday. Graduate student Mack Meyer, a transfer from the University of San Francisco, retired the Lancers in order in the ninth. Most notable, though, was Donahue’s performance.
“We needed a good, quality start out of him,” O’Connor said, “and he absolutely responded and was terrific. So that was a real big shot in the arm for us.”
Donahue said: “It’s been a while since my last outing … I want to be contributing on the field like I did tonight, and hopefully I can keep helping out.”
The Cavaliers stranded 10 runners and totaled only eight hits against Longwood, so theirs was far from a dominating performance. Still, Weber said, “I think all of us did a pretty good job today of coming out ready to play and putting those losses from the weekend behind us.”
For the second straight game, Virginia’s starting lineup included designated hitter Jack Weiller. This is Weiller’s third year at UVA, but a hip injury limited him to two games in 2016 and forced him to redshirt last season.
He made his 2018 debut Sunday at Miami, where he was 0 for 2. In the second inning Tuesday, Weiller collected his first hit as a Cavalier, a single to left field.
“I was so happy to see that,” O’Connor said. “Jack’s been through some difficult things.”
Weiller said: “It’s been a pretty long road, but it was a lot easier, just because our coaching staff, my teammates and family have been so supportive through it all. It would have been a lot harder if they weren’t as supportive.”
For most of the past decade, UVA and VCU have met twice each season, once in Charlottesville and once at The Diamond, home of the Class AA Richmond Flying Squirrels.
“We always get a great crowd [in Richmond],” O’Connor said. “It’s always an exciting environment, and to play in a minor-league stadium is something that’s memorable for our guys and gets a little extra pep in your steps. We always have great games with them, so we’re looking forward to it.”