Coach Brian O'Connor hopes the way Virginia stumbled at the end of the season is a good thing.
The Cavaliers (44-13) lost a weekend series for the first time all season at Wake Forest on the last weekend of the regular season, then dropped two of three in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
They still earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and will host a region for the fifth consecutive year beginning Friday. O'Connor expects that his team will be put the rare skid behind them.
“It’s a very positive and upbeat group,” he said of the team that is 44-13 overall, 29-3 at Davenport Field and in the 64-team field for the 11th consecutive season. “Sometimes I think it bothers us as coaches more than it does the players. They seem to put things behind them very quickly.”
After dropping two of three to the Demon Deacons, Virginia lost its opener in the ACC tournament to Maryland, then also lost 6-4 to Florida State when the bullpen failed to protect a 4-1 lead.
“Maybe in a strange way it’s a little bit of a lesson for us about how fine the line is between winning and losing at this level of college baseball,” O'Connor said.
He’ll find out when the Cavaliers play Bucknell (30-19-1) to open the regional. Second-seeded Arkansas (38-23) takes on No. 3 seed Liberty (41-16) in the nightcap of the double-elimination format.
“Hopefully what’s transpired the last two weekends won’t impact how we go about things,” he said.
Virginia should be accustomed to the higher level of postseason play. Only South Carolina can match its run of five years in a row as a host, and the Cavaliers reached the College World Series in 2009 and 2011. They have fallen short of the CWS the last two years, getting eliminated by Oklahoma in the regional round two years ago and then being swept by Mississippi State at home in a Super Regional last season.
While his normally reliable bullpen struggled at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Cavaliers still boast the seventh-best earned run average in the country at 2.36, and the third-best fielding percentage at 0.982. In the postseason, solid pitching and defense are usually a recipe for success.
Of course, some offensive firepower would be nice to see, too.
The Cavaliers have a collective .277 batting average, 96th in the country.
“It’s been inconsistent this year,” O'Connor said of Virginia’s offense, “but what a better time for it than right now for it all to come together. It’s going to need to, and I believe that it will.”
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