By Jeff White (

OMAHA, Neb. — As U2’s “Beautiful Day” played over the sound system, Virginia’s players lingered in the outfield, in no hurry to start packing up their gear at Charles Schwab Field Omaha.

The upbeat music did not match the Cavaliers’ mood. A season capped by the program’s seventh trip to the Men’s College World Series ended Sunday afternoon with a 7-3 loss to ACC foe Florida State in front of 23,989.

Two days earlier, in the opening game of the eight-team MCWS, Virginia had given up a run in the bottom of the ninth and lost 3-2 to another ACC rival, North Carolina. And now reality was sinking in as players, coaches and staffers embraced in right field. For graduate transfers Jacob Ference, Bobby Whalen, Angelo Tonas and Joe Savino and, in all likelihood, juniors Griff O’Ferrall, Casey Saucke, Ethan Anderson and Jay Woolfolk, the game marked the end of their college careers.

“You go out there and you realize there’s certain guys that you’re not going to play with again, and it gets really emotional,” sophomore Henry Godbout said outside UVA’s locker room. “It’s really not the most fun thing, honestly. We all love each other, and it’s tough.”

The MCWS starts with two four-team, double-elimination brackets whose winners meet in a best-of-three championship series. Every year in Omaha, one team in each bracket goes 0-2 and heads home early. That was the Wahoos’ fate last year, too.

“That’s frustrating, disappointing,” head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Nobody likes to go two-and-out.”

The Hoos, who finished 46-17 in their 21st season under O’Connor, went 5-0 over the NCAA tournament’s first two weekends to advance to Omaha for the third time in four seasons.

In the NCAA tournament, every team except the champion ends its season with a loss, O’Connor noted. “Today it was us, and we’ll deal with that and move on. But it doesn’t take away from how proud I am of the young men that wear our uniform and how they fight and compete every day and represent themselves, their family and this baseball program. They represent it with class all the time. They play the game the right way. And sometimes the game can be tough and cruel to you, like it was this weekend. But it doesn’t take away from the season that Virginia baseball had and who we will be moving forward.”

All seven of the Hoos’ MCWS appearances have come during O’Connor’s tenure, and he knows what’s required to make a deep run in Omaha. The Cavaliers were NCAA champions in 2015, a year after finishing as runners-up to Vanderbilt in Omaha.

Virginia’s goal is to reach the college game’s summit again, and the program is “really, really close,” O’Connor said Sunday. “We were really close last year and just have to be focused on being … a little bit better. And we weren’t that this weekend.”

Against North Carolina, the Cavaliers had only five hits, matching their season low. They doubled their output against FSU (48-16), but only two of their 10 hits went for extra bases: doubles by Harrison Didawick and Anthony Stephan in the second and eighth innings, respectively.

Florida State, meanwhile, totaled only seven hits Sunday, but three of them were home runs, including two by left-fielder Jaime Ferrer, and another was a double.

The Seminoles, who led 2-0 after four innings, blew the game open with four runs in the fifth, all coming with two outs.

“Certainly we all talk about it here, that to win in Omaha it’s individual moments, individual players that rise up,” O’Connor said. “And their left fielder certainly put two good swings on the ball, and they capitalized in the inning where they scored four runs. There were two outs, nobody on, and we didn’t make a catch in right field. And they opened it up and were very, very opportunistic.”

FSU stretched its lead to 7-0 before UVA finally broke through in the seventh on back-to-back RBI singles by Godbout and Saucke. Stephan’s double in the eighth drove in Ference to close out the scoring.

“This was tough today,” Saucke said. “You never want to end like that, especially in Omaha like this. You want to win the national championship, but I’m proud of this team. I’m proud of everything that we’ve accomplished.”

Jacob Ference (left) and Jay Woolfolk

FSU head coach Link Jarrett saluted the Hoos. “That is a model program. There are certain programs, as you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing in coaching, that you look to duplicating the things they have done. And that’s an A-plus coaching staff.

“Their team, front line, they play the game the right way. So, again, hats off to them. It’s not easy to be in this stadium this time of year, and they clearly are regulars.”

For the season, Virginia hit .333 with a program-record 116 home runs, which shattered the previous mark of 83. Didawick, a draft-eligible sophomore, tied UVA’s single-season record with 23 homers, and freshman Henry Ford and Ference had 17 apiece.

In seven NCAA tournament games, though, the Cavaliers hit .262 with only three homers: two by Godbout and one by Saucke.

“Super frustrating,” Ford said of the power outage, “but we’ll learn from it and we’ll be better for it next year.”

In his third start of this NCAA tournament, Woolfolk retired the first seven batters he faced. He faltered a little in the third inning, walking two and giving up two hits, but still limited FSU to one run.

In the fourth, however, Woolfolk suffered a lower-leg injury on the pitch Ferrer hit for his first home run. O’Connor and athletic trainer Brian McGuire came to the mound to check on Woolfolk. He remained in the game to face more two batters but clearly was laboring. O’Connor, after another mound visit, signaled to Savino in the bullpen, and Woolfolk’s day was done.

“It pained me to take him out of the game, but you all saw him hobbling out there,” O’Connor said.

“Just a freak accident, I guess,” Woolfolk said. “I felt fine, felt great [for the first part of the game]. Feel great now. Just something that happened, and I really don’t know how to explain it.”

Harrison Didawick's leaping catch in center field

The loss of Woolfolk, who’d won his first two starts in this NCAA tournament, was a big blow for the Cavaliers, Godbout said. “He really had a lot of good stuff. You never want to see one of our best pitchers go down like that. That’s how baseball is sometimes, but it was definitely tough.”

Woolfolk, a two-sport athlete for his first two years at UVA, gave up football to concentrate on baseball as a junior. He grew emotional at the press conference, where he joined O’Connor and Stephan.

“I wish I could have kept going,” Woolfolk said. “But Coach Oak was ready to do what’s best for the team.  I have the utmost confidence in Coach and I’ll follow behind him no matter what the situation is and no matter what the decision is.”

Woolfolk turned to O’Connor. “Since you’re here, know that I gave everything that I had,” Woolfolk said, “and thank you for making me the man I am today. I wouldn’t be this far without you.”

FSU stranded only three runners Sunday, to nine for Virginia. The Seminoles “had a couple of guys step up to get big knocks to have the big inning in the fifth inning,” O’Connor said. “You need somebody to step up and hit a two- or three-run home run, and we just didn’t get that or that big double to drive in two runs, whether it be the North Carolina game or this game … You either do it or you don’t. And we didn’t do it at the right time, and the two teams we played did.”

O’Connor smiled when asked about the impact Virginia’s third-year class has had on the program. “Their first year we lost in a regional to East Carolina, and then to make back-to-back trips to Omaha is pretty special,” he said.

“There’s some really talented, impressive young men in that group. And they have imparted their wisdom of what our baseball program is about, and that’s where it starts. It’s about the standards that we have in our program.

“Those guys impart that wisdom on those new players every year. So it’s passed on. You see Eric Becker and Henry Ford and the guys that are in the sophomore class, they get it. They know it, they understand it, and that’s because of the groundwork that that junior class has laid.

“I don’t know which ones of them will be back next year. We’ll find that out in July. Every program goes through that. But they have left, certainly, their legacy in this program because of how they carried themselves on and off the field.”

The class’ leader was O’Ferrall, who ranks among the finest shortstops in program history.

“We’re going to miss him,” O’Connor said. “Obviously his play on the field is elite, but what I’m going to miss most about Griff O’Ferrall is the man that he is, because he has an impact on everybody in the clubhouse every day. And candidly, he impacted me because of how he goes about his business. You get an opportunity in coaching to coach some really, really special young men, and Griff O’Ferrall is absolutely one of them.”

Freshman pitcher Matt Augustin, who retired the Noles in order in the bottom of the eighth, is among the players around whom O’Connor will build next season. Others include Godbout, Becker, Ford, Luke Hanson and Aidan Teel, and the returning players won’t lack motivation.

“To have this experience and get a taste of Omaha and to really see what it takes, it means a lot,” Ford said, “and I think it’s gonna fuel a big fire for next year’s team.”

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