Long off-season ends as 'Hoos open practice

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Three weeks from Friday, the Virginia baseball team will be in Arizona to open its season against Vanderbilt, the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

UVA will be the only unranked team in Scottsdale for opening t weekend. The MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament also includes No. 19 TCU and No. 25 Cal State Fullerton. So with Friday marking the official start of preseason practice, the Wahoos know they've got a lot of work to do, and a short amount of time to get it done.

"It moves pretty quick," UVA head coach Brian O'Connor said before Friday's practice. "The guys are excited. Certainly we've been working hard for, jeez, five months now."

"I think a lot of work needs to be done. I don't think you can over-prepare," said junior pitcher Noah Murdock. "But the work that we've put in has been diligent. It's been really good."

"It flies by, with everything we've got going on," said senior outfielder Cam Simmons. "So it's an exciting time of year, and I think we're all excited for the season to start."

Last season, the Wahoos won just 29 games, the fewest of O'Connor's 15-year tenure at UVA. It also marked the first time in that stretch that UVA failed to make an NCAA regional.

"Last year was a struggle for us," O'Connor said. "We proved to ourselves that this thing is difficult that we do. Sometimes you can take for granted that going to the NCAA tournament just happens. It was a tough year, but now our guys get a chance to bounce back and show what they're made of."

Simmons, an All-ACC second-team outfielder as a sophomore, is healthy again after missing last year with a shoulder injury. He made the transition from right field to center field last fall.

On the mound, Murdock is part of the competition for spots in UVA's starting rotation after returning mid-season from Tommy John surgery last spring. He and senior Evan Sperling were slated to start Friday's scrimmage in practice, O'Connor said, with sophomore Griff McGarry and freshman Mike Vasil scheduled to face off in Saturday's scrimmage.

Second-year lefty Andrew Abbott is "a potential closer" according to O'Connor, after he saved six games in a team-high 24 appearances last year. Abbott is part of a cluster of sophomores who are back this year after learning on the job last season. That group also includes Brendan Rivoli -- who was seeing time in left field on Friday -- shortstop Tanner Morris and outfielder Alex Tappen.

"I think it's a different feel team-wise," Tappen said. "I think we have a lot of guys that are in this program that want to win. And I think that's how it should be. We're all going to compete, and not only against other teams but against each other, to make each other better."

"We have a bad taste in our mouth with how last year ended," said Simmons. "So we're all really excited to kind of right the ship, and get this program back in the right direction."

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