Another long off-season for Wahoos

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The NCAA baseball tournament got underway Friday at regional sites around the country. But for the second straight postseason, the field of 64 does not include Virginia.

Brian O'Connor believes his team was just one or two ACC wins away from getting into a regional. The Cavaliers' head coach believes getting back -- UVA had been to 14 straight NCAA regionals under O'Connor until that streak was snapped last year -- starts with improving on the pitcher's mound.

"We've just got to be better," O'Connor said. "We can't give up as many walks, give up as many runs. That had a lot to do with where we were, where our position was."

UVA finished the season with a 4.68 team ERA. Entering NCAA regional weekend, that ranked 123rd nationally. The Cavaliers' three primary weekend starters for most of the season -- junior Noah Murdock, sophomore Griff McGarry and freshman Mike Vasil -- finished with a combined 8-17 record and 5.68 ERA.

O'Connor believes the Cavaliers' problem wasn't mechanics. He blames the relative lack of big-game experience on the pitching staff.

"It is really, really rare to have a young, inexperienced pitcher come to the ACC and have consistent success. Just because it's such a big jump for guys," O'Connor said. "I know Mike Vasil and Griff McGarry didn't have the years that they want. But those guys are talented guys that are the first time put into the fire and the limelight. They'll be way better next year."

Virginia finished the season with a 32-24 overall record, but just 14-16 in the ACC. The Wahoos won a series opener six times in conference play. They went on to lose four of those six series -- at home against Duke to open ACC play, then at Georgia Tech, at NC State and against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. All four of those teams are playing in NCAA regionals this weekend.

UVA also lost three of its five ACC series at home, including getting swept by Miami at Disharoon Park. And as O'Connor pointed out this week, six of the Cavaliers' 16 ACC losses came by one run.

"And if you flip three of those, we're playing this weekend. That's it," O'Connor said. "Those are things that if you want to be playing this weekend, you can't let happen."

O'Connor sees those disappointments as lessons for his players. He stressed that point in exit interviews with those players earlier this week.

O'Connor also said he's optimistic about a lineup that finished with a .292 team batting average, which as of Friday was tied for second in the ACC. A pair of freshmen -- second baseman Nic Kent (.337) and third baseman Zack Gelof (.313) -- played well in everyday roles, while sophomore Brendan Rivoli hit .320 and tied with Kent for the team lead with 42 RBI.

Another second-year player, infielder Tanner Morris, hit a team-best .345 with 38 RBI, while scoring a team-high 56 runs and tying for the team lead with five home runs. Because of his age, Morris is a eligible for next week's MLB Draft, but could choose to return to UVA for 2020.

"You think about Nic Kent and Zack Gelof, and the fact that they're going to be on our infield for two more years, those guys are elite, special players. And other players as well," O'Connor said. "There's excitement, and the guys know what our baseball program is about."

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