Virginia's NCAA title run stalls at Super Regionals
Young roster exceed expectations; Papi, Crockett, Howard, Gragnani earn numerous accolades
Throughout the season, coach Brian O’Connor predicted that the Cavalier baseball team’s torrid pace would not be sustainable. The team did its best to defy that prognostication as it made a run at the NCAA title, but ultimately fell short before they could make it to Omaha.
In his 10th season in Charlottesville, O’Connor’s incredible success continued, and the 2013 squad was one of his most complete rosters. Relying on fundamental baseball — timely hitting, shutdown pitching and stellar fielding — the Cavaliers scorched their way to a 45-9 regular season record. Led by a stunning group of freshmen and sophomores, the young Virginia squad raced into the postseason with their eyes set on a trip to Omaha and the College World Series.
The first taste of postseason action proved to be a wake-up call though, as rival Virginia Tech torched freshman starter Brandon Waddell for six runs in a 10-1 win in the first game of the ACC tournament. The Cavaliers rebounded from the loss, taking wins from Georgia Tech and Florida State behind senior Scott Silverstein and sophomore Nick Howard. It was not enough to make the championship game, however, as top-seeded North Carolina took the title from the Hokies.
The disappointment did not last long, as the Cavaliers were awarded a No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament, and played host to both the regional and super regional rounds.
Hosting the Charlottesville regional round, the Cavaliers continued their superb play at Davenport Field with a 2-1 win against Army. Waddell returned to form, giving up just one run in seven innings to set the tone for the weekend. Against Elon the next day, Silverstein struck out six batters in six innings as Virginia earned a 2-0 win to advance to the regional championship game. Facing Elon for the second time, the Cavaliers were similarly superb, erasing an early 2-0 deficit in an 11-3 pounding to advance to the super regional round. The victory gave Virginia its third 50-win season in O’Connor’s tenure.
In front of a sell-out crowd, Virginia looked to continue its home magic in the super regional round against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had other plans, as they notched 20 hits and 11 runs in the opening game to win 11-6. Facing elimination in Game 2, Virginia fell behind 5-3 when heavy rain delayed the game until the next day. Down 6-3 in the ninth, the Cavaliers mounted a furious rally, but fell one run short, losing 6-5 to end their season. Mississippi State continued their strong play in Omaha, reaching the finals of the College World Series before falling to champion UCLA.
Despite their disappointing exit from the NCAA tournament, the Cavaliers earned numerous accolades. Sophomore outfielder Mike Papi, who led the ACC in batting average, was named a first-team All-American by Baseball America, and junior closer Kyle Crockett earned third-team All American honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Crockett, Papi, Howard and senior second baseman Reed Gragnani were named to the All-ACC first team, while freshman outfielder Joe McCarthy and sophomore shortstop Branden Cogswell were named to the second team. McCarthy was named ACC Freshman of the Year, and O’Connor was named ACC Coach of the Year.
With so many young contributors, the Cavaliers lost only four players after the season. Gragnani and Silverstein were selected in the 21st and 25th rounds of the MLB draft, respectively, while fellow senior Jared King was hired as the head baseball coach at his alma mater Pulaski County High School in Dublin, Va. Crockett was drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians, and has already made his way to the AA Akron Aeros.