By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Three teams remain in the double-elimination NCAA baseball regional at Disharoon Park. Only one is 2-0 this weekend: the Virginia Cavaliers.

The other two teams, Mississippi State and St. John’s, are each 1-1, and one of them will be heading home around the time UVA’s players arrive at the ballpark on Sunday afternoon. Then at 6 p.m., in front of another capacity crowd at the Dish, the top-seeded Wahoos (43-15) will look secure a spot in an NCAA super regional for the second straight season.

This is not unfamiliar territory for head coach Brian O’Connor and his program. This marks the ninth time in O’Connor’s tenure that Virginia has won the first two games of a regional. Only once in this position have the Hoos not advanced to a super regional: in 2007.

The Cavaliers opened the four-team Charlottesville regional Friday afternoon with a 4-2 win over the fourth-seeded Penn Quakers, and second-seeded Mississippi State outlasted third-seeded St. John’s in extra innings that night.

After St. John’s eliminated Penn 10-9 in 12 innings Saturday afternoon, UVA and second-seeded Mississippi State met that night in a game matching programs that have each won an NCAA title.

It ended with frenzied celebrations on the field and in the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, sophomore Harrison Didawick raced home from third on Bobby Whalen’s hard-hit grounder to lift the Cavaliers to a scintillating 5-4 victory over the Bulldogs.

“What a college baseball game,” O’Connor said. “What an environment … Either team could have won that ball game. It came down to we just did a little bit more, and I’m just really, really proud of our guys that they hung in there.”

Eric Becker

After the NCAA selection show Monday afternoon, O’Connor fielded questions from media members and noted that regional winners “have individual players that do something spectacular, whether it be hit a couple of home runs or go out there and throw seven innings and give up one run. There are special things that are done at this time of the year. And you either have guys that do them and do them collectively as a group or if you don’t, your season’s over, and that’s fun.”

In front of 5,919 fans at Disharoon Park, several UVA players did special things Saturday night, including Didawick and freshmen Eric Becker and Matt Augustin.

Becker went 2 for 4 and drove in the Hoos’ first four runs. His two-run triple in the second put Virginia up 2-0, and his two-run single in the seventh tied the game at 4-4.

“That guy killed us,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis said.

Augustin relieved starter Evan Blanco with none out and a runner on first in the top of the seventh. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander struck out four and didn’t allow a run before giving way to graduate student Angelo Tonas with two outs in the ninth.

“For a true freshman to go out there in that environment and that situation … was incredibly impressive,” O’Connor said.

The same was true for Becker, though his production was no surprise. He’s hitting .358 with eight home runs this season.

“I think everyone in the lineup, everyone in the clubhouse, we kind of hold ourselves to a certain standard and tonight we didn’t waver from it,” said Becker, who’s from Thiells, N.Y. “And then the crowd, it was really fun to be a part of. They kept us in that game too. So, definitely the best environment I’ve been a part of.”


Augustin, Becker and Didawick joined O’Connor at Virginia’s postgame press conference. Augustin, who’s from Cherry Hill, N.J., also marveled at the atmosphere at the Dish, where sellouts for UVA’s postseason games have become the norm.

“The crowd was absolutely electric,” Augustin said. “Coming into it, seeing everybody, obviously it made my heart rate rise. But after the first couple batters, my heart rate slowed down, I was able to lock in on it.”

He smiled. “I kind of blacked out to a point where I don’t really remember what happened.”  Augustin said he pitched in a crucial game as a high school sophomore, “but nothing can top this. This is awesome.”

The Bulldogs had runners on first and third with two outs when Tonas took over for Augustin. The 5-foot-11 left-hander needed only one pitch to retire Mississippi State slugger Hunter Hines, who’d crushed a three-run home run in the third inning. Hines grounded out to second base, and the Hoos then seized the opportunity in front of them.

Didawick led off the bottom of the ninth with a ground-rule double to left-center field.

“I had absolutely no idea where the ball went,” Didawick said, smiling. “I was just running as fast as possible just to go wherever I need to go.”

Sophomore Henry Godbout followed by drawing a walk. Becker hit into a fielder’s choice, moving Didawick to third, and that brought up nine-hole hitter Bobby Whalen.

A graduate student from Indiana who’s hitting .384 season, Whalen knocked the ball back up the middle. Second baseman Amani Larry couldn’t field it cleanly, and Didawick scored to give the Hoos their sixth walk-off and 21st come-from-behind win of the season.

“You gotta credit their hitters,” Lemonis said. “Their lineup, that’s why they’re here and that’s why they’re hosting. There’s not an easy out in there.”

Disharoon Park

Virginia, which totaled six hits against Penn, had eight Saturday night. The Cavaliers came into the regional hitting .341 and averaging 12.3 hits and 9.7 runs per game, but they’ve faced two excellent starters this weekend in Penn’s Cole Zaffiro and Mississippi State’s Jurrangelo Cijntje.

We can win a lot of different ways,” said Didawick, who with 23 homers is tied with alumnus Jake Gelof for the program’s single-season record.

“We’re a great team. We’re not just an offense,” Didawick said. “We have a great pitching staff, great defense and great coaching, of course, and then with the fans behind us we can win any way possible.”

O’Connor said that what’s “done in the regular season, other than the self-confidence that you gain as an individual player and as a team, you can throw it out the window when it comes to this time of the year, you really can, and you’re seeing it all over the country.

“These regionals, they’re so fun to watch because you can’t assume anything. Just because we’ve hit 100-and-some home runs doesn’t mean that we’re going to hit a bunch of home runs when it comes to postseason play. Look at the pitching we faced tonight … This time of the year, it’s not predictable. And so you’ve got to use the talents of your team in different ways to win the ball game that’s in front of you. Would we all like to go out and roll out five home runs? Yes. But the other team in the dugout has earned the right as well, and they’re very, very talented. So you just do what the game tells you … to put your team in the best possible position to win the game.”


The Hoos can wrap up the regional with a victory Sunday night. If they lose, there will be a winner-take-all rematch Monday at Disharoon Park. O’Connor said he and pitching coach Drew Dickinson hadn’t decided who would start for Virginia on Sunday night, but they have multiple options.

UVA used only two pitchers Friday, one of whom, reliever Chase Hungate, would be available Sunday night, O’Connor said. Tonas threw only one pitch Saturday night, so he could get back on the mound, too.

“So it’s worked out perfectly from that standpoint,” O’Connor said. The Cavaliers will do everything they can to win Sunday night, he added, “and if some reason we don’t, we’ll be in great shape on Monday.”

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