By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. –– University of Virginia head baseball coach Brian O’Connor came into the year envisioning a weekend pitching rotation that included Bradley Hodges and Jack O’Connor. Both have been lost to season-ending injuries, however, and another projected starter, graduate transfer Joe Savino, has yet to pitch for the Cavaliers.

Those setbacks have not deterred UVA. The Wahoos, 21-4 overall and 6-3 in ACC play, are ranked No. 9 nationally. If their pitching has been uneven at times, their hitting has been spectacular.

Of the 11 position players who have started at least 12 games for the Hoos this season, all are hitting at least .300. Six are hitting .353 or better: Jacob Ference (.491), Bobby Whalen (.410), Casey Saucke (.394), Henry Godbout (.383), Henry Ford (.379) and Harrison Didawick (.353). UVA is averaging 10.9 runs per game.

“Our offense has been there all year long,” Brian O’Connor said.

In stretching its winning streak to six games, Virginia pounded out 17 hits Tuesday in a 15-5 victory over Richmond at Disharoon Park. A first-inning grand slam gave the Spiders a 4-0 lead, but the Cavaliers have shown all season “that even if we fall behind, our guys don’t panic,” O’Connor said.

Ethan Anderson’s two-run home run in the second inning cut UR’s lead to 4-3, and Didawick put the Hoos ahead to stay with a three-run blast in the fourth. Didawick, Anderson and Griff O’Ferrall finished with three hits apiece, and Saucke and Ference had two each.

Anderson, Saucke, O’Ferrall, Didawick, Godbout and Anthony Stephan (.306) are among the players back from the UVA team that advanced to the College World Series last season.

“Last year we had a great offense,” Anderson said. “I don’t know where we ranked in the nation, but this year feels the same: talented guys throughout the lineup, one through nine, guys that can swing it. There’s guys that have been in the program for three years. There’s guys that this is their first year of college, and there’s also guys that are coming from other colleges that can swing it. Everyone’s having a great approach at the plate and we’re winning ball games.”

His players “haven’t said anything to each other that I’ve heard,” O’Connor said, “but it looks kind of like a challenge: whoever’s in there needs to step up and do the job, and it’s been incredibly impressive. The consistency has been fun to watch and hopefully we can continue to do it.”

Next up for Virginia is a much-anticipated clash with No. 11 Duke (18-7, 4-5). In a rematch of the NCAA super regional played last year in front of sellout crowds at Disharoon Park, the Cavaliers will face the Blue Devils in three-game series at Jack Coombs Field in Durham, N.C.

The ACC rivals are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday.

“Duke’s got a great pitching staff, I think one of the best the best pitching staffs in the country, and so we’ll have our work cut out for us this weekend,” O’Connor said. “But I’m just really, really pleased that we can score in a lot of different ways.”

Harrison Didawick

Didawick leads Virginia with 12 home runs, and Ference, Saucke and Ford have seven apiece. Still, O’Connor said, the “key to our offense the whole year has really been our two-strike approach. We’re tough to strike out, and we get to two strikes a lot and our guys battle and foul off pitches, and that’s been the real key for us this year to having a great offensive approach.”

Anderson came into the UR game batting .297, but a 3-for-4 effort raised his average to .314. A preseason All-American, Anderson started slowly this season, and O’Connor recently moved him to the eighth position in the batting order.

“I kind of got away from my approach early in the year … so getting down to the eighth spot, some of the pressure’s off,” Anderson said.

The junior from Virginia Beach had four hits last week in UVA’s sweep at Pitt, and against Richmond he looked like the switch-hitter who batted .375 with a school-record 26 doubles last season.

“I love what I’ve seen out of him recently,” O’Connor said. “When he’s going good, he hits doubles the other way and then he’s able to pull home runs like he did tonight … The hits will come, and if he has the right approach, they’ll come in bunches. We all know how good he is and when he really gets going like he did tonight, then it makes it a pretty dangerous offense.”

O’Ferrall, another preseason All-American, also experienced some uncharacteristic struggles at the plate early in the year. But he went 3-for-6 against UR (9-15) to lift his batting average to .319.

“Just continuing to work hard and just trusting the process,” said O’Ferrall, a three-year starter at shortstop who in 2023 set Virginia’s single-season record for hits.

Matt Augustin

The Cavaliers’ offensive prowess notwithstanding, how far they advance this season may well hinge on their pitching. Losing Hodges (elbow) and Jack O’Connor (lat) to season-ending injuries has forced Brian O’Connor and pitching coach Drew Dickinson to revise their plans for the staff.

“It provides opportunities for other guys and other guys need to step up, but certainly it’s a big blow,” Brian O’Connor said.

UVA starter Freddy Beruvides Jr. gave up two walks and two hits, including Jake Topolski’s grand slam, in the first inning Tuesday, but relievers Jay Woolfolk, Dean Kampschror, Matt Augustin, Aidan Teel and Ryan Oskinski had no such problems.

Augustin, a 6-foot-2 freshman, was especially sharp. In his three innings, his longest appearance as a Cavalier, he allowed no runs and only one hit and walked none.

“He got the game under control and pitched really, really great,” O’Connor said. “He’s done that a couple of times this year and really stepped up for this team, and I love what I’m seeing out of him and other guys as well.”

Against Pitt, Virginia started Cullen McKay in the opener, Evan Blanco in Game 2 and Kevin Jaxel in the series finale. In Durham, O’Connor said, the Cavaliers plan to start McKay on Thursday and Blanco on Friday “and then have Jaxel available potentially out of the bullpen, and then kind of see what we have going into Game 3.”

Jaxel remains a possibility to start the series finale, but “that’s just kind of where our pitching is at right now,” O’Connor said. “What we’ve focused on doing is pouring everything into each game, the game that’s in front of us and trying to win that game, and then moving on from there.”

Savino, a transfer from Elon, is expected to make his UVA debut soon, O’Connor said, and freshman right-hander Bryson Moore, who has made only two appearances season, is close to getting cleared too.

“So we’ve got reinforcements coming,” O’Connor said.

The Hoos host Old Dominion next Tuesday, and a three-game series with No. 14 North Carolina will follow at Disharoon Park. But Virginia’s immediate focus is Duke.

In the best-of-three NCAA super regional at the Dish last June, the Blue Devils won the first game 5-4. The next two games, though, were blowouts, as Virginia won 14-4 and 12-2 to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the sixth time in program history.

The Devils no doubt have had the rematch circled since the ACC released its 2024 schedule, and “I expect a great series,” O’Connor said.

“We have a lot of respect for Duke and their program … They’ve lot of great pitchers returning, a lot of great players and so it’s going to take everything it’s going to be a certainly a challenging weekend. We’ve just got to do what we do, and if we do that, we’ll have success.”

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