Following a whirlwind of a 2021 season that featured an 18-18 ACC record and a trip to the College World Series, Virginia (22-1, 7-1 ACC) is proving their naysayers wrong once again.
Similar to last year’s team, the Cavaliers have been prone to being overlooked by many — evidenced this year by the fact Virginia was nowhere to be found in preseason rankings. Whereas in 2021, Virginia struggled in the regular season and thus had good reason to be seen as an underdog heading into its postseason campaign, there is no explanation as to why this season’s Cavaliers were doubted.
Sure, Virginia lost several key pieces in their lineup and rotation. The likes of infielder Zack Gelof, outfielder Brendan Rivoli, catcher Logan Michaels, infielder Nic Kent and pitchers Andrew Abbott, Mike Vasil, Blake Bales, Stephen Schoch, Kyle Whitten, Zach Messinger and Griff McGarry all departed after playing significant roles in the Cavaliers’ success last season.
But many others didn’t. Virginia returned four of their top six most utilized position players from a year prior, including sophomore catcher Kyle Teel, graduate student infielder and pitcher Devin Ortiz, junior infielder Max Cotier and junior outfielder Chris Newell.
Sophomore infielder Jake Gelof and graduate student first baseman and outfielder Alex Tappen also returned after contributing last season. In 2021, Gelof made 29 starts for the Cavaliers as a true freshman hitting four home runs at the plate while Tappen hit 10 doubles and six homers.
Overall, the position players on the Cavaliers’ 2022 roster accounted for 53.7 percent of the total runs scored by Virginia during the 2021 season. They also tallied 51.8 percent of the Cavaliers 2021 hits, 60.8 percent of their home runs and 56.2 percent of their runs batted in.
Clearly, Virginia brought back the majority of their offensive output from a year ago, but the positives do not stop there. The Cavaliers also welcomed several freshmen that have already been featuring prominently in their lineup.
Freshmen Griff O’Ferrall, Casey Saucke and Justin Rubin headline a talented group of infielders, while freshman catcher and utility player Ethan Anderson is another key part of Virginia’s lineup. Outfielder and catcher Colin Tuft also figures to be key for the Cavaliers.
Virginia lost more on the pitching side of things than anywhere else — with pitchers such as Abbot, Vasil and many more now departed — but not enough to warrant real concern.
Senior Brandon Neeck and juniors Nate Savino and Matt Wyatt all remain on the roster after taking on noteworthy duties in 2021. Additionally, sophomore Jake Berry, as well as Ortiz, have taken on larger workloads than last year.
As important as returning pitchers have been for Virginia this season, the new talent on the mound has been just as salient.
Graduate students Brian Gursky, Dylan Bowers and Will Geerdes have shouldered a significant portion of the work for the Cavaliers to this point. Gursky transferred from USC, Bowers from Northern Colorado and Geerdes from Columbia. Also, freshman pitcher Jay Woolfolk has chipped in to handle several innings for the Cavaliers.
So, how does a team coming off a College World Series appearance that kept a large portion of their offensive talent and brought in sufficient pitching manage to be unranked to begin the season?
Virginia’s start to their 2022 campaign hasn’t provided many answers to that question.
The Cavaliers’ 22-1 record, including a 15-0 mark at home, is the best start in program history through 23 games. Virginia won their first 14 contests and followed up their lone loss — a 7-6 defeat at Duke — with an eight-game winning streak.
Thus far, Virginia’s offense has racked up 267 runs, 45 home runs, 238 runs batted in, 483 total bases, a .340 batting average and a .446 on-base percentage. All of those marks lead the ACC.
The Cavaliers also place second in the conference in slugging percentage and hit-by pitches.
On the mound, Virginia has the best earned run average in the ACC, allowing just 2.13 per game. They’ve also surrendered the fewest runs, second fewest hits and fourth fewest walks.
As a team, Virginia leads the ACC in both total wins and conference wins. No other team in the conference has lost fewer total games than the Cavaliers.
Many individual players have put together impressive starts to the season for Virginia, but Gelof is leading the way. The sophomore is pacing the ACC in a barrage of categories, including home runs, runs batted in, total bases and slugging percentage. He also sits third in the conference in batting average, having slashed .472 thus far.
Elsewhere, Saucke and O’Ferrall are having outstanding debut seasons. Saucke slots in just behind Gelof in batting average, placing fourth in the ACC. O’Ferrall is ninth in runs and walks.
The upperclassmen quartet of Ortiz, Teel, Newell and Tappen have also enjoyed exceptional seasons.
Tappen, Teel and Ortiz all sit in the ACC’s top 20 in runs batted in, while Newell has lashed six home runs on the season, good for a tie of sixteenth in the conference.
Savino headlines the pitching staff, having thrown his way to the fifth best earned run average and sixth most strikeouts in the ACC. He is one of only two pitchers in the conference to throw a complete game this season.
Gursky’s season has been equally as impressive, as he leads the ACC in wins and is fourth in earned run average.
Neeck and Ortiz have filled out the latter half of the starting rotation, doing so effectively. The pair have combined to throw 39.2 innings while surrendering just 14 earned runs.
Berry, Bowers, Woolfolk and Geerdes headline a stifling bullpen, combining to toss 60.2 innings and allow just 16 earned runs.
With a dazzling lineup and remarkably efficient pitching, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents 267-58 thus far. This dominance has catapulted them up to tenth in the latest NCAA Division I Baseball rankings.
With 32 regular season games remaining on their schedule, the Cavaliers are only just getting started. If they continue on the surge they’ve sustained for over a month now, Virginia could find themselves right back where they concluded their 2021 season.
This time, it may not end in defeat.