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Offense shines for Virginia baseball in opening weekend sweep of Hofstra

The Cavaliers bludgeoned their way past the Pride to earn three victories despite weak pitching performances

<p>There is no shortage of talent in a lineup that produced the most runs in a Cavalier season’s first three games since 1911.</p>

There is no shortage of talent in a lineup that produced the most runs in a Cavalier season’s first three games since 1911.

No. 14 Virginia baseball kicked off its season this weekend at Disharoon Park, hosting Hofstra for a three-game set. Expectations are high for the Cavaliers (3-0, 0-0 ACC) this year following a trip to Omaha, Neb. last season, despite the departure of a few key pieces by way of graduation and the MLB Draft. Virginia swept the series with a dominant offensive showing, scoring 42 total runs — half of which came in Saturday’s 21-3 crushing of the Pride (0-3, 0-0 CAA). However, the Cavaliers’ pitching staff stumbled out of the gate, keeping Friday and Sunday’s contest close to the final outs.

Game One — Virginia 10, Hofstra 8

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jack O’Connor received the ball for the season opener Friday, pitching in front of 3,575 total fans at Disharoon Park — the second highest-attendance for a home opener in program history. Things quickly went awry though as Hofstra pushed across an early unearned run before O’Connor was able to retire the side in the top of the first. However, junior infielder Griff O’Ferrall evened up the score for Virginia with a leadoff solo home run in the bottom half of the inning. 

O’Connor again ran into trouble in the top of the third inning as the Pride steadily filled and emptied the bases, racing out to a 4-1 advantage. Though he settled in for the fourth inning, O’Connor was relieved by graduate left-handed pitcher Angelo Tonas in the top of the fifth.

The Cavaliers roared back in the bottom of the sixth inning with a slew of clutch hits from the middle of the lineup, highlighted by freshman infielder Henry Ford collecting a two-RBI single for his first collegiate hit out of the cleanup spot. Sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick kept things rolling with a two-run home run over left center field. Didawick’s blast left the yard in a hurry with an exit velocity of 107 miles per hour. By the end of the sixth, Virginia led 7-4.

Hofstra continued to fight, tacking on two runs in the top of the seventh and knotting things up in the eighth with a solo shot from senior catcher Matt Pelcher. The Cavaliers regained the lead in the bottom of the eighth with three runs — one from a passed ball and two from wild pitches — to bring the score to 10-7. 

Though the Pride scraped across another run in the top of the ninth, sophomore right-handed pitcher Aidan Teel slammed the door shut with runners on second and third to make an early claim for the role of closer out of the bullpen. Teel emphatically celebrated walking off the mound as Virginia secured a narrow 10-8 victory. Junior left-handed pitcher Blake Barker earned the win with a strikeout in 0.2 innings of relief.  

Game Two — Virginia 21, Hofstra 3

Saturday’s matchup was not as tightly contested. Though Hofstra pushed across another unearned first inning run against sophomore left-handed pitcher Evan Blanco, the Cavaliers’ pitching and defense fell into a rhythm soon after.

In the bottom of the third, sophomore infielder Luke Hanson tied the game with a solo home run to left field before O’Ferrall once again went deep, this time with a two-run home run. With his second blast in as many games, O’Ferrall doubled his home run total from 2023. His apparent turn towards power hitting could go a long way towards replacing run production lost to the MLB Draft in Kyle Teel, Jake Gelof and Ethan O’Donnell. Virginia batted around in the bottom of the third, leading 8-1 before O’Ferrall popped out to finally end the inning. 

The Cavaliers would bat around yet again in the bottom of the fourth to add five more runs. Ford contributed one of them with his first collegiate home run, a solo blast to left center field. The onslaught continued into the bottom of the fifth, as Virginia raced to a 17-1 lead.

While the Pride scraped back two runs in the top of the sixth, Virginia thoroughly dominated for the rest of the game. Blanco recorded the win with three strikeouts and zero earned runs across 3.0 innings of work.

Game Three — Virginia 11, Hofstra 9

Seeking a series sweep, the Cavaliers turned to junior right-handed pitcher and former backup quarterback Jay Woolfolk. Woolfolk was a late-game reliever for much of last season but was elevated to the starting rotation for Sunday’s matchup after committing full-time to baseball last summer. Woolfolk struggled on the mound, yielding six earned runs across 2.0 innings with five walks, two hits and three strikeouts.

Virginia kept pace early on, notching three runs in the first inning through RBI knocks from junior catcher Ethan Anderson and junior right fielder Casey Saucke. The bats struck again in the bottom of the second with a pair of RBI doubles from O’Ferrall and Anderson. The teams traded runs in the third, tied at six apiece.

Relieving Woolfolk, freshman right-handed pitcher Bryson Moore completed a masterful 3.0 scoreless innings in his first collegiate appearance, while the Cavaliers scored twice in the fifth – extending the lead on a three-run home run from Ford in the bottom of the sixth. The Pride rallied with three runs of their own in the seventh, but it was once again Teel to secure the save and series sweep in the top of the ninth. Moore earned the victory with three strikeouts and two walks in a scoreless outing. The game was twice tied, while the lead was exchanged five times in the first six innings.

Virginia fans have a lot to like out of opening weekend. O’Ferrall, a crucial leader, opened the season with two home runs in three games — indicating the Cavalier lineup is in secure hands. In addition, newcomers like the powerful Ford and fiery Teel — who missed last season with an elbow injury — offer plenty of upside. There is no shortage of talent in a lineup that produced the most runs in a Cavalier season’s first three games since 1911.

However, barring Saturday’s blowout, Hofstra made things a bit too close for comfort against the fourteenth-ranked team in the nation. While it is still February and pitchers are only just ramping up for the long season ahead, O’Connor and Woolfolk had shaky starts. The losses of last season’s reliable rotation pieces Nick Parker, Brian Edgington and Connelly Early were certainly felt this weekend. Additionally, Virginia committed six errors in the series. Though some of the issues can be attributed to natural early season jitters, Coach Brian O’Connor will have plenty to digest and address moving forward.

“Any time you can go out and win three games, you’re really proud,” Brian O’Connor said. “For the first weekend, I’m proud of our guys … It was a collective offensive approach … Certainly we have a lot of things to work on and that’s what we’ll focus on.”

The Cavaliers will return to Disharoon Park Wednesday afternoon to take on Old Dominion and close out their opening stretch of home games. The game will be broadcast on ACCNX with the first pitch slated for 3 p.m. Looking farther ahead, the team travels to Jacksonville, Fla. this weekend for the Jacksonville College Baseball Classic tournament. 


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