— Virginia Baseball (@UVABaseball) June 11, 2023
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — On the final play of the final game of the NCAA super regional at Disharoon Park, Duke’s Luke Storm hit a routine fly ball to left field. As the baseball headed toward the glove of Virginia’s Colin Tuft, catcher Kyle Teel, who was a standout football player in high school, sprinted from behind the plate to the mound, where he tackled pitcher Brian Edgington in a joyous collision.
“I knew he was coming, so I just kind of had to brace for it,” Edgington said with a smile at the Cavaliers’ postgame press conference. “I was just hoping that I could turn around before he got there, which I was able to do. But that was an awesome feeling.”
The rest of the Wahoos soon followed Teel to the mound, forming a dogpile with Edgington on the bottom. In the stands, the sellout crowd stood and cheered. It was a sight UVA fans have witnessed before in Charlottesville, but it never gets old.
To a list that included 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2021, Virginia added 2023 on Sunday afternoon. With a 12-2 victory over the Blue Devils, the Wahoos clinched a berth in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the sixth time in program history. Duke (39-24) was seeking its first CWS appearance since 1961.
“Getting to Omaha is very, very difficult to do,” said Brian O’Connor, who’s in his 20th season as UVA’s head coach. “It takes a lot of things. It takes a lot more than just talent, and that’s why I’m so proud of these players that wear our uniform.”
As they had in 2009, 2014 and 2021, the Hoos (50-13) bounced back to win two straight games after dropping the opener of a super regional. And that, O’Connor said, speaks to “the character and the determination and competitive spirit of this team.”
Virginia led 4-3 after seven innings on Friday, only to see the Blue Devils rally for a 5-4 victory. There was no such drama in the next two games. The Cavaliers romped 14-4 on Saturday and pummeled Duke again on Sunday.
“They’ve got a tremendous team, and they played really, really well over the last two days,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “The reality is, they just outplayed us. If they play like that, they’ll be a very tough out in Omaha.”
UVA, which had 14 hits in the second game of the super regional, totaled 16 in the finale. The Cavaliers’ pitchers shined in each game, too. Junior Connelly Early, a transfer from Army, worked seven innings on Saturday. Edgington, a graduate transfer from Elon, struck out 11 and walked only one in his first complete game as a Cavalier. Duke used nine pitchers on Sunday.
Not since Brandon Waddell had a UVA pitcher thrown a complete game in the NCAA tournament. Waddell did so against Vanderbilt in the College World Series championship series in 2014.
“To see what Brian Edgington did today, that’s what this is about,” O’Connor said. “It’s about giving them an opportunity to wear this uniform, an opportunity to compete, an opportunity for them to shine and rise up at the biggest moments on the biggest stage, and our team as a whole did that today.”
Teel went 2-for-5 with four RBI, sophomore shortstop Griff O’Ferrell went 4-for-5, and junior center-fielder Ethan O’Donnell went 3-for-4. Moreover, for the second straight game sophomore first baseman Ethan Anderson and sophomore designated hitter Anthony Stephan each homered for the Cavaliers.
“The offensive output was very, very impressive and very determined,” O’Connor said. “Certainly Griff O’Ferrall had a tremendous day, as did other guys. But Brian Edgington was spectacular. To say a little bit about who he is, when I got a chance after the celebration to hug him, the first thing out of his mouth was him thanking me for the opportunity for him to come here. That gratefulness will serve him well for the rest of his life, and I know he really values the opportunity that he’s had here and he has absolutely made the most of it.”
The complete game was the second of Edgington’s college career and his first since April 2021, when he struck out 12 for Elon in a win over William & Mary.
Complete games are a rarity in college baseball, and to go the full nine innings on Sunday “was awesome,” Edgington said. “After that eighth inning, I was really hoping they weren’t going to say I was done, because I was going to tell them I was going back out, no matter. I’m just happy that they gave me the opportunity to try and finish the game.”
Every game of this super regional drew a capacity crowd of 5,919, and the Cavaliers enjoyed a decided home-field advantage Saturday and Sunday. Throughout each of those games, a fan on the third-base side of the stadium held up a sign bearing the message HOOS IN 3, and the crowd’s support helped make that happen.
As Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” played over the PA system, UVA’s players took a victory lap, slapping hands with fans as they circled the stadium.
“I’ve never felt the energy like [it was] this weekend,” O’Ferrall said.
The final two games bore striking similarities to each other. On Saturday, after Duke scored three runs in the fourth inning to cut its deficit to 4-3, the Hoos scored four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to blow the game open.
On Sunday, Virginia led 5-0 after five innings, with all of those runs coming in the second. After the Blue Devils rallied for two runs in the top of the sixth, the Cavaliers responded with four runs in the bottom half of that inning and then scored two more in the seventh.
“I think one thing that I realized a lot this year is how playoff baseball is so momentum driven, especially in front of a crowd like this,” O’Ferrall said. “So when we got punched, being able to punch right back in the next opportunity that we had at the plate just really evened the playing field back up and got this crowd back into it.”
The Cavaliers, Pollard said, are “just so explosive that if you make a mistake, if you don’t execute a pitch to an intended location or you give them a free base or you make a mistake in the small-ball game, they can just use that and it feeds them and they get going with momentum … They just did a great job of having responses, and we couldn’t close the gap on them either day.”
For the fifth time in program history, the Hoos have reached the 50-win mark, and they have no intention of stopping there. They won the College World Series in 2015 and are looking to earn a second NCAA crown this month.
“For a lot of teams, Omaha’s the goal,” O’Connor said. “A lot of teams have it on their hats, they have T-shirts, they say it in the huddle. Certainly that’s a goal of ours. But I’ve learned over our trips there that you’re not satisfied with just being in Omaha. It’s about an opportunity to compete, eight teams competing for a national championship, and that’s what these guys’ focus will be when we go out there.”
The teams at the CWS are split into two four-team brackets, and UVA will be grouped with Florida, TCU and Oral Roberts. The winners of those double-elimination brackets will meet in a best-of-three championship series at Charles Swab Field Omaha.
Jake Gelof and Teel were freshman starters on the UVA team that went 1-2 at the CWS in 2021. They’re now All-Americans whose impact on the program can’t be overstated.
“Having them on our side has been unbelievable,” O’Ferrall said.
O’Connor said Gelof and Teel are “fierce competitors and warriors and ready to play every day. They’re roommates, they came here as roommates, and they’ve lived together [as sophomores and juniors, too]. They’ve very, very competitive, but they’re different in a number of ways.
“Jake Gelof is very, very prepared. He puts his work in, he rises up in big occasions. And Kyle Teel, I gotta tell you, I’ve never been around a player like him. We’ve had a lot of talented players, but nobody that I’ve ever coached has a fun-loving spirit like Kyle Teel … He plays the game like a 13-year-old boy, and I love it. It is so fun to be around, and I’m just thankful that we have another opportunity to have those guys competing for us.”
For most of the other Cavaliers, this will be their first trip to Omaha, and O’Connor knows it will be an unforgettable experience for them.
“As I said last weekend, this baseball program is here for these players to wear this uniform and compete for a championship,” O’Connor said. “It’s not for us as coaches. We get to enjoy it because of the work that they deliver and their performance. So I’m just so excited for every one of them to have an opportunity to walk in that stadium and compete for an opportunity to win a national championship.”
O’Connor, who grew up across the Missouri River from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has participated in the College World Series as a Creighton pitcher, as a Notre Dame assistant and as UVA’s head coach. This will be an especially emotional homecoming for him. His father, John O’Connor, passed away in November.
“This will be the first time that I’ve either played in that event or coached in the event that my father hasn’t been there, and I’m just looking forward to seeing my mom and give her a big kiss,” said O’Connor, fighting back tears at the press conference.
Another towering figure in O’Connor’s life, his friend and mentor Les Disharoon, will be missed in Omaha, too. Disharoon died in April. In 2018, the Cavaliers’ stadium was named Disharoon Park in honor of Les and his wife, Ann, who passed away in 2013.
“He was in his luxury box for every game we played in the stadium,” O’Connor said. “He loved these kids. He loved supporting them and certainly made a huge, huge impact on our baseball program. And I know he’s up there smiling down on this team right now and very very proud.”
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