Motivated 'Hoos open fall practice

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Brian O'Connor's 17th season of fall baseball at Virginia got started under a hot mid-afternoon sun on Wednesday afternoon at Disharoon Park.

O'Connor's first 14 seasons as UVA's head coach all ended in the postseason. The Cavaliers made NCAA regional appearances every year from 2004 to 2017. That run included six super regional appearances and four trips to the College World Series, capped by the program's NCAA championship in 2015.

But that run ended with a 29-25 season in 2018. The Wahoos improved to 32-24 last spring, but again failed to reach an NCAA regional. According to O'Connor, this fall is about laying the foundation to get back.

"First and foremost it starts with an attitude," O'Connor said. "This program has a certain standard of where we should be at the end of the year, and living up to that standard every day."

UVA's roster for the first fall practice included 10 first-year players -- two of whom, outfielder Chris Newell and right-hander Jayson Hoopes, chose to come to school despite being drafted last summer -- plus five other transfer new to the program. Eight of those newcomers are pitchers.

The Wahoos also return two of their primary weekend starters from last year, junior Griff McGarry and fellow right-hander Mike Vasil, a sophomore, plus juniors Andrew Abbott and Kyle Whitten and fifth-year right-handers Evan Sperling and Chesdin Harrington.

With the departure of former pitching coach Karl Kuhn this summer, O'Connor is handling the UVA pitching staff this fall.

"I think it's going to start on the mound," O'Connor said of UVA's postseason goal. "Going into last season we returned 170 innings from the year before, and this year we return 380 from last year. So we've got some more experience."

"I like our athleticism, position-player wise," the head coach added.

UVA returns second-year starters Zack Gelof at third base and Nic Kent at second base. Kent and freshman Max Cotier both saw time at both second and shortstop early in practice on Wednesday. Junior Alex Tappen is the team's only returning starter in the outfield. Brendan Rivoli and Logan Michael were both in catcher's gear on Wednesday.

The roster this fall features only two players who have appeared in an NCAA regional in a UVA uniform -- Sperling and Harrington, who both pitched in the Cavaliers' season-ending loss to Dallas Baptist in Fort Worth in 2017. The Wahoos lost another veteran this fall, when versatile senior Cayman Richardson decided not to play his final college season. Richardson started 94 games -- at five different positions -- the past three seasons.

Sperling said Wednesday that there's been a good vibe at Disharoon Park this fall.

I think we feel good," he said. "We've got a good crop of new guys, that brought a lot of positivity, a lot of energy. And then we have old guys that are hungry to get in the postseason, that have never been in the postseason before.

"I think that's an important aspect about our team this year is we have third-years that have never played postseason baseball before. We have Chesdin and myself, who haven't ever gotten to a Super Regional."



 
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