By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — After shaking hands with Kansas State’s coaches, Brian O’Connor stopped on his way to the home dugout and surveyed the joyous scenes in the stands at Disharoon Park.

Moments earlier, his University of Virginia baseball team had won its NCAA super regional with Kansas State to advance to the Men’s College World Series for the third time in four seasons and seventh time in program history. While his players dogpiled near the mound, O’Connor took a moment to take in what he’s built in his 21 seasons on Grounds.

To a list that included 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2021 and 2023, the Cavaliers added 2024 on Saturday. They’ve become regulars in Omaha, Neb., and they’re looking to add a second MCWS championship trophy to the one they won in 2015.

“Just extremely proud,” said O’Connor, whose record at UVA is 885-368-2. “You have to have great players that are team-first players that are passionate and care about this baseball program, but it takes so much more than that.”

As he looked around the Dish, where his players were taking a victory lap, O’Connor saw fans young and old celebrating in a sea of blue and orange. He saw friends who have generously supported his program, including UVA rector Robert Hardie, who “was the first person to take me out to dinner 21 years ago,” O’Connor said.

Everywhere O’Connor turned, he saw people who “believed in what could be accomplished here, and then just all the overflowing amount of fans and kids that just love being a part of this. It’s a special opportunity when you get to host, because as great as it is for [the players] and the coaches, it’s just as great for our fan base and everybody that’s so passionate about it, and this won’t stop. We’ll continue to build.”


The Wahoos, who entered the NCAA tournament seeded No. 12 overall, went 3-0 last weekend to win the double-elimination regional at the Dish, defeating Penn once and Mississippi State twice. That moved them into a best-of-three series with K-State, which had stunned the college baseball world by winning the NCAA regional in Fayetteville, Ark., as the No. 3 seed.

Virginia opened the super regional with a 7-4 victory Friday night before a sellout crowd of 5,919. That was the Hoos’ 23rd come-from-behind win of the season, but they required no rally to oust the Wildcats (35-26) on Saturday in front of another full house at the Dish.

The game was tied 2-2 after four innings, but the Cavaliers (46-15) scored two runs in the top of the fifth to go ahead for good. Twice K-State cut its deficit to the single run—4-3 in the fifth and 5-4 in the eighth—but Virginia put five runs across in the top of the ninth to eliminate any suspense.

“U-V-A! U-V-A!” fans chanted in the bottom of the ninth, standing as they awaited the final out. It came quickly. Relief pitcher Chase Hungate retired the Wildcats in order to seal the Hoos’ 10-4 victory, and the volume inside the Dish rose a few more decibels.

Brian O'Connor (center) and his team

This marks the second time the Cavaliers have advanced to the MCWS in back-to-back years. They were NCAA runners-up in 2014 and then won the championship in ’15. Only once before this year—in 2015—had Virginia advanced to Omaha by going 3-0 in its regional and 2-0 in its super regional.

“They played their best baseball the last two weekends,” O’Connor said of his players, and he lauded their poise and perseverance. The Hoos scored all 10 of their runs Saturday with two outs.

“That’s the name of the game,” K-State head coach Pete Hughes said. “The team that gets the two-out hit with men on base wins, and they did it time and time again [in the super regional].”

That didn’t surprise O’Connor. “We’ve got excellent young men that represent this uniform the right way, and they’re tigers,” he said. “They’re just completely relentless with everything that they do, and it just makes you so proud as a coach. I won’t be able to get the smile off my face that they have the opportunity to go back to Omaha, and I’m very, very confident that we’ll be ready to play whenever they tell us to play. And I believe that we’ll have a deeper run than we did last year.”

A year ago, the Cavaliers went 0-2 in Omaha, dropping two one-run games. Three teams clinched spots in the MCWS on Saturday: UVA, North Carolina and Florida State. All are from the ACC, and they’ll be grouped together in the same four-team bracket in Omaha, along with Tennessee or Evansville.

In its first game at the MCWS, Virginia (46-15) will face North Carolina (45-14) at Charles Schwab Field Omaha. UNC is the NCAA tournament’s No. 4 overall seed. The Hoos took two of three games from the Tar Heels in early April at Disharoon Park.

Current Cavaliers who played in Omaha last year include juniors Griff O’Ferrall, Ethan Anderson, Casey Saucke and Jay Woolfolk and sophomores Harrison Didawick and Henry Godbout.

“I think it’ll help tremendously,” O’Ferrrall, Virginia’s All-ACC shortstop, said Saturday. “I think the first time you’re there … it’s a whole [new] experience, and you don’t really know what to look for. There’s a lot going on, and obviously we’re going to enjoy it just as much this year, but I think we’re going into it with more of a demeanor of we’re going to do some damage rather than just kind of go there just to be there.”

Virginia’s veterans know “what it takes to win games there,” O’Ferrall said. “Two one-run losses last year definitely left a bad taste in our mouth, so just kind of having that in the back of our minds knowing what we need to do is definitely a benefit for us.”

Jay Woolfolk

The Cavaliers entered the postseason with one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Their pitching was more of a question mark, but starters Woolfolk, Evan Blanco and Joe Savino shined the past two weeks, as did relievers Hungate, Angelo Tonas and Matt Augustin.

Woolfolk, who struggled during the regular season, made his first start since March 17 last Sunday in the final game of the regional. He started again Saturday and matched his career high with seven strikeouts.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Woolfolk said, “but just battling through it all and knowing that your offense is going to score, that’s the easiest way to pitch, honestly. Everybody knows we have a top-five offense in the country, and when they can score at will, and you saw it today, you pitch a little more comfortable.”

O’Connor said he knows “the expectations of what our program should do are extremely high, and that’s fine. I know people might have been down on our pitching, but I knew what they’re made of and I knew their stuff was good enough and that it would come back around, and Jay’s a perfect example of that.”

Virginia pounded out 13 hits Saturday against four K-State pitchers. Every Cavalier who batted had at least one hit, and Saucke and freshmen Henry Ford and Eric Becker had two apiece.

Saucke opened the scoring in the top of the first with a solo home run, and Ford’s two-run single in the fifth put Virginia ahead 4-2.

Jacob Ference, a graduate transfer from Division III Salisbury University, broke the game open with a two-run triple in the top of the ninth, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to 7-4. Sophomore Luke Hanson, pinch-hitting for Becker, drove in the final three runs with a double down the third-base line.

Hughes, a former Virginia Tech head coach, saluted the Cavaliers in his postgame press conference.

“They’re the gold standard of college baseball,” Hughes said. “They are Omaha-driven and fueled every single year. The programs that are gold standard are the ones that can refuel, reload, have their rosters get turned around with the draft and come back and win the same amount of games and compete to go to Omaha … That’s where we need to be, that’s where we aspire to be. It’s good to see people with integrity winning at a high level, because that’s not always the case these days in college athletics, specifically my sport.”

For a program to advance to Omaha three times in four seasons “is not normal,” O’Ferrall said, “and I think it’s important for us to kind of realize that as a team and just appreciate the work that we’ve done this year. Every journey is a little different. This season had a lot more twists and turns, I would say, than maybe our trip last year and a lot more comeback wins, a lot more just kind of weird games, so I think we’ve been put through a lot of challenges throughout the season.”

Starting in 2004, the Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of O’Connor’s first 14 seasons. Not until 2009, though, did they reach the round of 16 in the 64-team tournament.

“I remember taking this job 21 years ago and really believed that it could be a special program, but there were some barriers that needed to be knocked down,” O’Connor said.

“After the first four years, everybody was saying, ‘Well, jeez, how come they can’t win a regional?’ It takes time, it takes experience, it takes having the opportunity and learning from it. Candidly, I was the one that needed to learn the most. I was a raving lunatic the first four years and out of control a lot.”

O’Connor said he realized that a team often takes on the personality of its leader, and so he changed his approach. The results speak for themselves.

“Fortunately, in 2009, we were able to punch through,” O’Connor said, “and have learned a lot in the six trips [to Omaha] that we’ve had there. We’ll put those things into motion to give ourselves the best chance to compete for a national championship.”

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