By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mother Nature willing, the University of Virginia baseball team will squeeze in one more non-conference game before starting ACC play.

UVA is scheduled to meet George Washington in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon. The weather forecast isn’t promising, however, and the Cavaliers’ next game might be in Coral Gables, Fla. That’s where No. 13 Virginia (11-1) and Miami (6-5) will play a three-game series this weekend.

“We’re excited about starting conference play,” UVA head coach Brian O’Connor said Tuesday afternoon at Disharoon Park. “This is why players come to the University of Virginia and other ACC schools: It’s to play in one of the top baseball leagues in the country.”

A season ago, the Wahoos took an unbeaten record into their ACC opener. They’re not undefeated this year, but they’ve stumbled only once, against UMass last weekend at the Dish. The Hoos improved to 11-1 with a 6-3 victory over visiting Penn State on Tuesday.

Each ACC team is scheduled to play 30 regular-season conference games, and “you kind of make your bed on how you do in the league,” O’Connor said. “Certainly the non-conference is important to build your résumé. To potentially get in the NCAA tournament and host and things like that, you’ve got to take care of business out of the league, but everything’s driven by our league play, and we’re excited to get started.”

Virginia posted a 19-11 record in ACC play last year en route to its sixth appearance at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. That team’s standouts included All-Americans Jake Gelof and Kyle Teel and All-ACC selection Ethan O’Donnell, who combined to hit 49 home runs.

Gelof smashed 23 homers in 2023, a single-season record at UVA. This team, O’Connor’s 21st at Virginia, might not have anyone who’ll challenge Gelof’s record, but the lineup is stacked. As a team, the Cavaliers are hitting .347, and eight players have hit at least one homer apiece.

“We’ve got a really good offensive club,” O’Connor said Tuesday after his 850th win as Virginia’s head coach. “It’s a little bit different than last year, because you had 20-some home runs from Gelof and things like that, but I love our lineup, because we can score in different ways and [at] different points in the lineup.”

O’Connor smiled. “The biggest challenge I have every day, every morning, is deciding who’s going to play.”

Harrison Didawick

Eleven players have started at least five games each this season. Griff O’Ferrall, Casey Saucke, Ethan Anderson, Anthony Stephan, Henry Ford, Henry Godbout and Harrison Didawick have been fixtures in UVA’s lineup, but O’Connor knows he must also find roles for Jacob Ference, Bobby Whalen, Luke Hanson and Eric Becker.

“That’s a good problem to have,” O’Connor said, “and we’re just kind of moving the pieces around.”

Whalen, a graduate transfer from Indiana, started against Penn State (7-4) and batted ninth for the Hoos. He went 2-for-4 and is hitting a team-best .516.

“Bobby having an incredible start,” said O’Ferrall, a junior who had a school-record 108 hits last season. “We have a mix of experience and young talent kind of throughout the lineup and I think we’re really deep one through nine, and having a guy like Bobby, a fifth-year veteran in the nine-hole, has been huge for us.”

The Cavaliers’ pitchers have been solid so far, but they’ll be without Bradley Hodges for the rest of the season. A sophomore left-hander who shined in the fall, Hodges had Tommy John surgery Tuesday to repair an elbow injury, O’Connor said.

Hodges was expected to be Virginia’s Friday night starter this spring, but he made only one appearance, last month against Hofstra, before being shut down.

The injury is “unfortunate,” O’Connor said, “but it provides other opportunities for other guys, and he’ll be back at whatever point the rehab allows him to get back.”

Virginia started left-hander Owen Coady, a graduate transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, against Penn State. Coady went 4.2 innings, his longest appearance as a Cavalier, before giving way to Chase Hungate.

“I felt pretty good,” Coady said. “I’m definitely excited to be here at UVA in whatever role they have for me.”

The start was Coady’s second of the season. The first was against Auburn in the Jax College Baseball Classic in Florida.

“I thought he pitched really great down there too,” O’Connor said. “He knows what he’s doing out there … and [that’s] exactly why you go out and get a graduate in the transfer portal, to start a ball game like that. He’s going to be a really valuable pitcher for us here.”

Of the six pitchers Virginia used against the Nittany Lions, five began their college careers elsewhere: Coady at Penn, Hungate at VCU, Angelo Tonas at Georgetown, Ryan Osinski at Bucknell, and Blake Barker at Division II Seton Hill.

In Barker and sophomore Aidan Teel, who missed last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Cavaliers have two closers whose value to the team is immense, O’Connor said.

“Starting pitching is important, but I’ve always believed that if you’re going to be successful, you kind of build your staff from the back to the front,” O’Connor said. “You have chance to have a really elite club if you’ve got really front-line starters, but you’ve got to be good in the bullpen. To win games on the road in this league, you have to be able to lock them down at the end of the game, because it’s so tough to win on the road, and having a couple of guys at the end of the game that can finish games for you is critical.”

Owen Coady (left) and Ethan Anderson

Sophomore Cullen McKay, who’s impressed in midweek appearances, is joining the weekend rotation, O’Connor said. McKay is 1-0 with a 0.79 earned-run average.

“Pitching is always the most important thing,” O’Connor said. “You have to be good and solid on the mound, and I believe that we’ve got that. I really do. We’re working to put guys in the right places. I love what we’re doing in the back half of the game. We need to get more consistent starts.”

The Cavaliers totaled 11 hits against the Nittany Lions, with Whalen, O’Ferrall and Saucke recording two apiece. Didawick, a sophomore who leads the team with four homers, put the Hoos up 2-0 with a bases-empty blast in the second inning, and their lead grew to 5-0 before Penn State rallied for three runs in the fifth.

For O’Ferrall, his 2-for-4 afternoon raised his batting average to .250. Coming off a season in which he hit .396, he’s started slowly, but O’Ferrall remains confident.

“Baseball is one of those games where you never really know how many hits you’re gonna get in a day,” he said. “You can do everything right and you could end up with no hits, or you could get jammed four times and get four hits … So I’ve leaned on my teammates and they’ve picked me and everyone else up offensively.”

In the latest rankings, six ACC teams are among the top 15: No. 1 Wake Forest, No. 10 Clemson, No. 12 Duke, No. 13 Virginia, No. 14 NC State and No. 15 North Carolina. Miami isn’t ranked, but it’s a storied program with plenty of talent.

“In this league, you have to play great,” O’Connor said. “If you don’t play great on a day, you lose, because the caliber of the competition is so good.”

At the tournament in Florida last month, Virginia defeated Wichita State, then-No. 18 Iowa and Auburn. That experience, O’Ferrall believes, was excellent preparation for the challenges awaiting UVA in ACC play.

“The Jacksonville weekend was awesome,” O’Ferrall said. “Those were three really good teams that we played, and we played all of them to the last inning. So just kind of being in that environment, against three really good opponents and playing in high-stakes situations, like the ninth inning of a close game, pretty much all three times, I think will build character for us down the road.”

UVA swept Miami in a three-game series at Disharoon Park last season. In 2022, the Canes swept the Cavaliers in Coral Gables. Most of the Hoos’ current players were elsewhere two years, but O’Ferrall is happy to provide a scouting report on the scene at Alex Rodriguez Park.

“Whenever anyone asks me, the only way I can describe it is, it’s kind of a circus down there,” O’Ferrall said, smiling. “There’s horns going on, people are yelling. It’s a lot. It’s really fun to be down there and play. I remember as a freshman, at first I was a little thrown off, because there’s a lot going on here. So I’ll maybe just tell the freshmen to relax, maybe prep them a little bit going into it that there’s going to be some antics going on, and that’s just how it is.”

To receive Jeff White’s articles by email, click the appropriate box in this link to subscribe.