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Fall Report: Virginia

Fall Report

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Brian O’Connor isn’t afraid of the elephant in the room. In fact, he’s charging that elephant head-on.

In the summer of 2003, O’Connor took over a program that had narrowly escaped dissolution just two years earlier, and he promptly turned it into a legitimate college baseball superpower, leading the Cavaliers to regionals in each of his first 14 seasons and four College World Series trips between 2009-2015, capped by the 2015 national title. In our 2015 Top 100 Programs rankings, Virginia ranked No. 2, just a whisker behind No. 1 Vanderbilt, the team it had faced in each of the previous two CWS Finals.

Enter the elephant: How did a program that was very recently at the top of the college baseball world fail to make regionals each of the last two years?

“I’m continuing to talk to our guys about this concept of learning how to win,” O’Connor said. “The last two years, we haven’t won at the level that’s what our standard is, and this team needs to learn what it takes to win college baseball games.”

It’s jarring to hear that kind of talk at Virginia, given all that the program has accomplished in O’Connor’s tenure. But it’s exactly the kind of talk the Cavaliers need. Nobody is entitled to success just because they’re at a program with a rich tradition. Success must be earned every year, through hard work every day.

Winning begets winning — the only way to learn how to do it is to do it. So O’Connor was encouraged that his team battled back to win after falling behind 5-0 in the first of two seven-inning scrimmages last weekend against East Carolina. And he was encouraged that the Cavaliers followed that up with another win in the second game. Nobody is reading too much into fall exhibition results, but Virginia displayed a tenacious offensive approach and a willingness to compete all the way through. That was more important than the final score. …

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