Heading into this week’s ACC Tournament, University of Virginia head baseball coach Brian O’Connor has his team focused, while recognizing what a season this “special team” has been able to put together.
“We have played good consistent baseball all season,” he told reporters at a Monday morning conference call. “We haven’t stubbed our toe all year.”
As the #2 nationally ranked Cavaliers look to defend their 2009 ACC Championship, O’Connor seeks to maintain that consistency to win out the weekend.
“To win the ACC regular season (which the Cavaliers did by winning their weekend series with Miami) is a tremendous accomplishment. It’s a big body of work in what I feel is the best college baseball conference in the whole country,” he boasted.
“We are going to do everything we can to win the ACC Tournament, but winning the regular season is important. It has put us in a good place heading into the NCAA tournament. We are now in the mindset that we have to win a tournament every weekend from this point out.”
Three players that will be key for Virginia through both tournaments will be Jarrett Parker, Danny Hultzen and Phil Gosselin – players that have all earned O’Connor’s respect throughout the season after playing through tough spots or adjustments to their game.
2010 ACC Pitcher of the Year Hultzen was moved out of the field this season, and has stuck to just pitching to wave off fatigue. “I hope we see the benefits of the move in this post-season, when we are able to call upon a fresh Hultzen,” explained O’Connor.
The coach does not read much into Hultzen’s alleged current rough patch. “It’s just a one-two week rough patch. He can turn it around. He may have an off outing, but he is still getting his team in the situation to win against big teams like Miami and North Carolina.”
Jarrett Parker’s bat will not be the only thing he can contribute to a potential run to Omaha. His talent in center field isn’t a secret to any ACC foes. “Parker’s dives have changed games for us. His reach, his ability to get the ball is one of the best I’ve ever coached,” said O’Connor. “You want to be strong up the middle, especially in center field, and our strength up the middle is why we have a special team this year.”
Parker may play defensively up the middle, but he’s also now hitting in the middle of the batting order, a change made earlier this season. “Moving to the middle of the lineup has been an adjustment for him, but he’s made it. He’s really turned it up a notch.”
Second baseman turned left fielder Phil Gosselin is “one of the best hitters we have coached here in the past seven years,” according to O’Connor. “He is a model of consistency, and has put up quality at bats for us. He is a special player, offensively and defensively.”
Gosselin move to left field from second base has been questioned by those concerned with his draft status, but O’Connor and Gosselin aren’t worried. “Phil and I had a conversation after last season about him playing more left field instead of second base. He is a team player, very unselfish…He hasn’t been concerned at all about professional or draft status. The scouts saw Phil play second base on the Cape, and he’s played second base in twenty of our games this year.”
O’Connor also is excited that he was able to give Branden Kline, a freshmen pitcher, his first ACC start against Miami last weekend. “I wanted to give him experience in that first game of the Miami series. He would be a great guy to start in a championship game, in a regional, if we need him.”
Kline will be a part of the bullpen at the start of the ACC Tournament. With Friday as an off day for the team, Kline would be able to start a weekend game if needed.
Although O’Connor realizes the importance of winning the ACC Tournament, he also knows that no matter what, there is a lot of baseball still to be played for the Cavaliers. “I would be shocked if we were not one of the top eight national seeds. I think we’ve earned it from the entire season. We have only lost one series this season, and we have one of the top two RPIs in the nation.”
Katherine Cornetta is a freelance writer and a contributor to The College Baseball Blog. She founded On Being a Sports Girl and is a rabid College Hockey supporter.