June 10, 2014

Brian O'Connor and Virginia Baseball in the Postseason

All of us are over-the-moon excited about the Hoos heading back to Omaha.  I'll break all of that down, plus more, in another stream of consciousness baseball post later in the week.  But before we get to that, here's this...

When Maryland beat us on Saturday, a post began to take shape in my mind, detailing how Virginia Baseball under Brian O'Connor was a miserable 2-for-5 in Super Regional performances; about how he was similar to Pitt basketball's Jamie Dixon --- frustratingly spinning wheels, stuck in a rut at the Sweet Sixteen level.

Well, as you know, the bats got hot (and by 'hot,' I mean scalding, face-melting HOT -- our Hoos hammered out a .435 team batting average, good for 30 hits and 18 runs across the 2nd and 3rd games) and we won two to take the Super Regional and head to Omaha for the College World Series.  Wahoowa.  Eat a dick, Maryland.

So now, this post is a course correction.  I'm not bemoaning the idea that he's presiding over a program stuck in neutral.  Instead, this post is a celebration.

BOC has been UVA's baseball coach for 11 seasons now... let's take a look at his postseason record during that span.

BOC's Hoos in the Regionals
2004 -- 2-2 (eliminated by Vanderbilt)
2005 -- 0-2 (eliminated by Ohio State)
2006 -- 1-2 (eliminated by Evansville)
2007 -- 2-2 (eliminated by Oregon State)
2008 -- 1-2 (eliminated by CS Fullerton)
2009 -- 3-0
2010 -- 3-1
2011 -- 3-0
2012 -- 1-2 (eliminated by Oklahoma)
2013 -- 3-0
2014 -- 3-0

Thanks to an awesome 16-3 (.842) run over the last six years, O'Connor is a zesty 22-13 (.629) overall in the Regionals.  But prior to 2009, he was scuffling with a 6-10 (.375) record, with five straight eliminations at the Regional level.  Learning how to win in that format (and recruiting / developing better players, allowing for better regular season records and earning more hosting privileges) took some time, but it's obvious that we've "arrived" and that he's figured things out when it comes to managing a team (especially a pitching staff) in the postseason.

If you're any other program in the nation, I think it's a safe bet that seeing your name called as part of the Charlottesville Regional makes your stomach drop out of your asshole.  It's like hitting a brick wall.  As in, we've advanced from five of our last six Regionals, which means we've littered the highway to the Super Regionals with 15 broken and abused also-rans over the course of the last six seasons.  You visit Charlottesville for a Regional, you don't live to see the light of day in a Super Regional (unless, of course, you're Oklahoma).

BOC's Hoos in the Super Regionals
2009 -- 2-1 (@ Ole Miss)
2010 -- 1-2 (vs. Oklahoma)
2011 -- 2-1 (vs. UC Irvine)
2013 -- 0-2 (vs. Mississippi State)
2014 -- 2-1 (vs. Maryland)

7-7 (.500) under O'Connor in the SRs. Three series wins, two series losses.

This year's Super Regional was a pivotal one --- losing to Maryland would have kind of cemented us as [at least somewhat] "weak" at the SR level.  After we lost game 1 to the Turdles and all Hoofans everywhere were assuming disaster, one Wahoos247 poster even went so far as to say: "Choking again. It is what the baseball team does."

But instead, we came back and won the series, and emerged as very, very solid at the SR level under BOC.  As Maryland's coach John Szefc (pronounced "chef") said it: "Virginia [under Brian O'Connor] is a college baseball monster."  Roar.

BOC's Hoos in the College World Series
2009 -- 1-2 (eliminated by Arkansas)
2011 -- 2-2 (eliminated by South Carolina)
2014 -- ???

Here's where BOC gets the golden opportunity to establish himself as the best college baseball coach in the country.  All it takes is a national championship, just one national championship, to get there.  His 3-4 record in the CWS is not spectacular, but it is solid, and every win in Omaha should be savored like a fine aged Scotch.  Every win in Omaha is rare, unique, and special.  It takes at least five of them to claim that national championship, and the worst record you can have and still emerge as a champion is 5-2 (one loss in bracket play and one loss in the championship series).

This is only our third trip to Omaha, and the first two appearances, while solid, were not spectacular.  A recap:

9-5 loss to LSU
7-5 win over CS Fullerton (Fullerton eliminated)
4-3 loss to Arkansas in 12 innings (Virginia eliminated)

6-1 win over California
7-1 loss to South Carolina
8-1 win over California (Cal eliminated)
3-2 loss to South Carolina in 13 innings (Virginia eliminated)

Danny Hultzen's golden arm wasn't enough to gun us past the Gamecocks.

We didn't show particularly well against LSU in our first-ever CWS game (I blame nerves), and we got skunked by the Gamecocks in that winner's bracket game in '11 (I blame South Carolina's awesomeness).  Otherwise, we've either won or gone to extra innings in the other five games.  To me, that equates to showing pretty damn well in the College World Series.  At worst, it is grinding.

This season, the proverbial "next step" would be to emerge from CWS bracket play and make an appearance in the championship series.  Despite so many national seeds already being eliminated, we have a tough draw -- but we'll break that down later this week.

For now, rest easy knowing that after a five-season run at the beginning of Brian O'Connor's career at Virginia in which his Hoos struggled in the postseason, we've solidified into a program that is totally comfortable under the bright lights and big pressure of the postseason.

Confidence, Hoofans.

Secret Weapon: #4 starter Josh Sborz

Fuck it, some early-ass predictions on our story in Omaha:

Sunday, 6/15: Virginia (Kirby) over Ole Miss -- The Rebs are a great team... very similar to Virginia in terms of program composition. What I do think we'll see, however, is the Rebs being a bit wide-eyed and blinky under the big lights, this being their first trip to Omaha in like 400 years.  They'll be happy to be there.  We'll be focused on winning a championship.

Tuesday, 6/17: Virginia (Waddell) over TCU -- I think the Frogs beat Texas Tech to earn this showdown with us in the winner's bracket.  Our superior pitching (read: bullpen) wins a relatively easy 6-3 type of game.

Friday, 6/20: TCU over Virginia (Lewicki) -- We dump them down into the loser's bracket, but they knock off Ole Miss (who eliminates TTU on Tuesday) to climb back to this point.  With that momentum, and with their backs against the wall, the Frogs take this game.

Saturday, 6/21: Virginia (Sborz) over TCU -- At this point, TCU has burned up all of their arms, and we have not.  Simple math.  Hoos advance to the CWS championship series.  (I think we pitch Sborz in this game in a balls-out move to save Kirby for the championship series.  All-in for a championship.)

Monday, 6/23: Vanderbilt over Virginia (Kirby) -- Vandy didn't need to play on Saturday (after cruising through their side of the bracket after beating Louisville in an ├╝ber-pivotal game 1), so they are rested, relaxed, and confident.  We get a good performance from Kirby, but it's not enough.

Tuesday, 6/24: Virginia (Waddell) over Vanderbilt -- Just because.  Just because there's no way we don't force a decisive game 3.

Wednesday, 6/25: ??? -- I'm not stupid enough to jinx us by predicting a national championship!  But I'm also not sadistic enough to say we'll lose.  Either way, if we get this far it was another great season.


1 comment:

  1. Great post! My thoughts exactly. The season-by-season, round-by-round summary was very informative.