By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — More postseason baseball at Disharoon Park?

Yes, please.

There’s only one place the Virginia Cavaliers would rather play than the Dish, and that’s Charles Schwab Field Omaha, home of the College World Series. If the Wahoos win an NCAA super regional next weekend, they’ll advance to Omaha, Neb., for the seventh time in Brian O’Connor’s tenure as head coach, and to their delight, that best-of-three series will be played in Charlottesville.

“We’ve been fortunate to host 11 regionals here, and by far this was the best crowd and the most electric that it has been in those 11 times hosting,” O’Connor said Sunday night after UVA, with its fans in full voice, scored six runs in the top of the ninth inning to pull away for a 9-2 win over Mississippi State.

“That team has a chance to play for awhile,” MSU head coach Chris Lemonis said of the Cavaliers.

Starting Friday or Saturday, Virginia (44-15) will host Kansas State (35-24) in a best-of-three series at Disharoon Park, with the winner moving on to Omaha. The NCAA will announce the dates and times of the eight super regionals Tuesday.

An unexpected turn of events at the NCAA regional in Fayetteville, Ark., where K-State was the No. 3 seed, worked in the Cavaliers’ favor. Around 5 p.m. Sunday, Southeast Missouri State University recorded the final out in an elimination game, ending host Arkansas’ season in stunning fashion.

The Razorbacks were seeded No. 5 overall in the NCAA tournament, and had they won their four-team regional, they would have hosted the winner of the Charlottesville regional in the next round. But Arkansas’ loss created an opportunity for the Hoos, who are seeded No. 12 in the NCAA tournament, and they pounced on it.

Seeded No. 1 in the double-elimination Charlottesville regional, Virginia defeated fourth-seeded Penn 4-2 on Friday and then edged second-seeded Mississippi State 5-4 on Saturday night. The Bulldogs bounced back from that loss to oust third-seeded St. John’s on Sunday afternoon, setting up a rematch with UVA.

In front of a sellout crowd of 5,919, Mississippi State went up 2-1 on Dakota Jordan’s first-inning home run, and Virginia answered with two runs in the third to regain the lead.

It was still a one-run game after eight innings, and an MSU victory would have forced a winner-take-all finale on Monday. But UVA pitcher Jay Woolfolk never let the Bulldogs mount a late-game comeback.

In his first start in two-and-a-half months, the junior right-hander delivered an unforgettable performance. Woolfolk, who was a two-sport athlete during his first two years at Virginia, recorded seven strikeouts in eight innings, both career highs.

Control issues had marred Woolfok’s first season as a full-time baseball player, and he entered Sunday night’s game having walked 34 batters, the most of an UVA pitcher. Against the Bulldogs (40-23), though, he walked only one.

“He commanded the ball tonight,” Lemonis said. “He hadn’t commanded it that way all year.”

Jay Woolfolk

Joining O’Connor at the Cavaliers’ postgame press conference were Woolfolk, catcher Jacob Ference and shortstop Griff O’Ferrall. Woolfolk (3-1, 6.15 ERA) began the season as a weekend starter but was moved to the bullpen after struggling against Wake Forest on March 17. This has not been the season he envisioned when he gave up football to concentrate on baseball, Woolfolk acknowledged, but “when you have teammates like these guys and you’ve got coaches like Coach Oak who believe in you, who keep throwing you out in those type of situations, you never lose confidence in yourself, no matter what goes on on that mound … Without them I wouldn’t have the confidence that I had to go out there and execute like I did.”

Woolfolk shared the regional’s Most Outstanding Player award with teammate Eric Becker, who drove in four runs against Mississippi State on Saturday night.

“It was one of best outings we’ve ever had in my 21 years at Virginia in such a pivotal game … just amazing,” O’Connor said. “Jay Woolfolk is going to have that for the rest of his life. When his team counted on him and he needed to step up, he pitched the best game that he’s pitched in our uniform in three years. And many years down the road, he’ll be able to reflect on that, and when he’s challenged in his life … he can reflect back on this opportunity he had tonight and remember what he did when everybody needed him most.”

In the top of the ninth, sophomore Luke Hanson’s two-run single pushed Virginia’s lead to 5-2, after which the Bulldogs unraveled, committing a costly throwing error and then letting two more runs come home on wild pitches.

By the time Woolfolk returned to the mound to start the final half-inning, the outcome was effectively settled, and the home fans were on their feet, ready to celebrate. After Woolfolk gave up a leadoff single to Mississippi State slugger Hunter Hines, O’Connor motioned to Chase Hungate in the bullpen, and No. 4 departed to a rousing standing ovation from the Cavaliers’ fans.

“This is a dream come true, honestly,” Woolfolk said, “but we all know we’re not done yet. We’ve still got a whole ‘nother weekend to play to get to where we really want to get to.”


The all-tournament team included five Cavaliers: Woolfolk, Becker, Ference, pitcher Matt Augustin and second baseman Henry Godbout.

Virginia entered the regional with a program-record 113 home runs and had nine players hitting .301 or better. If there was a question about the Cavaliers, it was their pitching, but they received three outstanding starts in the regional: from graduate student Joe Savino on Friday, sophomore Evan Blanco on Saturday and Woolfolk on Sunday.

“I’m excited,” O’Connor said, smiling. “I can’t sit still. What our pitching did this weekend, and our defense, was awesome. I told the team after the game, I’m as proud of this team as any team that we’ve coached here. And we pitched it the best that we pitched all year, at this time, and that just speaks to who they are.”

Griff O'Ferrall (center)

O’Connor praised the work of pitching coach Drew Dickinson. “He’s been here five years, and the games he calls at this time of the year are his best games. He’s prepared and he believes in every pitcher that we run out there,” O’Connor said.

“A lot has been made about our offense, and rightfully so. It’s one of the top offenses in the country. But this weekend, we had to do enough offensively [to win], and we were led by our pitching and defense. This time of the year you’re going to face great arms in the other dugout, so you’ve got to pitch great and you’ve got to play great defense, and it excites me for what we can potentially do moving forward.”

Twice Sunday night the Bulldogs had a runner on second with no outs, and each time Woolfolk quelled the threat.

In the fourth, he retired three straight batters after giving up a leadoff double to Hines. In the sixth, Woolfolk teamed with O’Ferrall on a flawlessly executed pickoff play, catching David Mershon off second base for the inning’s second out, and then retired the next batter on a fly ball to center field.

O’Connor said he and Dickinson decided two weeks ago that Woolfolk would be Virginia’s No. 3 starter in the regional.

“He’s got really electric stuff,” O’Connor said. “He had some bumps in the road this year, but those bumps made him tougher and prepared him for the opportunity that he had tonight. And I just believed that he could get us off to a good start. But as the game started moving on in the middle innings, he was just determined. When he managed that inning with a runner on second base and no outs, I just kept feeling that we had something special here tonight.”

Woolfolk hadn’t pitched more than six innings in a game as a Cavalier before Sunday, but “I just kept telling myself in my mind that I was not going to make the mistake that I made in 2021 against Mississippi State [in the College World Series],” O’Connor said, “when I took Griff McGarry out of the game just because of what I felt like his pitch count was and Mississippi State ended up scoring five runs to win a pivotal game in Omaha.”

Ference, a transfer from Division III Salisbury, caught all three games in the regional. He said noted the “sense of calm confidence radiating from” Woolfolk during warmups, and that confidence proved to be well-founded.

“It’s the best I’ve seen him all year,” Ference said, “and it was the best situation too.”

O’Ferrall and Woolfolk are from the Richmond area, and they battled each other in high school: O’Ferrall for St. Christopher’s and Woolfolk for Benedictine. O’Ferrall has seen Woolfolk shine in big games, “and I had all the confidence in the world with him [Sunday night],” he said. “But seeing his resilience throughout the season has been pretty incredible. He’s done a really good job of turning the page from appearance to appearance, and that’s why he was such a perfect guy for the situation. It was a clean slate.”

As the game went on, the Bulldogs’ frustration grew, and Woolfolk exhorted the crowd every time he returned to the dugout. “Just hearing the crowd erupt after three outs, it was probably the best feeling I’ve had on the mound,” he said.

The Cavaliers’ Friday matinee drew a crowd of 5,802, just shy of the stadium’s 5,919-seat capacity, and their next two games packed the Dish.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Woolfolk said. “You feed into that. You want to keep them screaming and yelling like they did. You can see it in the ninth inning when we had the six runs. I think if we don’t have that, that inning might have not happened. The crowd is a big part of what our success here at UVA.”

This marks the ninth time in the past 15 seasons that the Cavaliers have advanced to an NCAA super regional. “That shows the consistency [with] which these guys play with year after year,” O’Connor said, “and I know they’re excited and looking forward to the opportunity they’ll have next weekend.”

That the Hoos would have an opportunity, if they defeated Mississippi State, to play at home in the super regional became known about an hour before the Sunday night at Disharoon Park began, but not everyone realized what was at stake.

Before taking the field for warmups, O’Ferrall said, UVA players had been watching the Arkansas-SEMO game in the locker room. Not until after the Charlottesville regional ended did the players learn that they had more games to play at the Dish this season, “but that was definitely good news,” O’Ferrall said, smiling.

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