Fall Games Give Glimpse For Virginia Baseball Season

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Virginia wrapped up fall ball.
Virginia used the fall to prepare for the 2020 season. ~ Photo courtesy Vierginia Athletics Media Relations

Major League Baseball’s World Series was not the only baseball played in October. While America’s favorite past time is known for its alignment with spring, fall ball is in fact a thing, as well. Virginia concluded its own world series, the Orange and Blue World Series, on Friday. Orange swept the series, ending on an 8-6 win over Blue on Friday night.

The heat from the Orange’s bats remained ignited for the entirety of the series. The games were spread out from October 6, 8, 18, 20 and 25, and the Orange’s offense persisted through it all. The team scored 3, 9, and 8 runs in the first three games. Even though the teams were shuffled after game 4, Orange still managed to score 7 and 8 runs in games 4 and 5, respectively.

This is a glimmer of hope for fans, as last year the team failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. If this series is any preview for what is to come this season, Virginia fans should be elated.

“Certainly, we lost some key offensive guys from last year. I think we lost four every day players from last year, but I think there’s some new players that can make immediate impacts,” UVA coach Brian O’Connor said. “Not only I think they can swing the bat, they can do some things with their legs, some stolen bases things like that. I like where we’re at offensively. I think we need to continue to improve, but I think the versatility and different options we have are gonna be pretty good.”

The offensive potential is not Virginia’s only new asset. The Cavaliers are also coming in this season with a new pitching coach. Drew Dickinson was hired only a month ago, as coach Karl Kuhn left last season for the head coaching job at Radford, leaving UVA after 16 years. Dickinson comes from Illinois, where he was the pitching coach for the past eight seasons and played there himself, as well, before playing seven seasons in the minor leagues.

“We went on a three-week national search,” O’Connor said. “Coach Dickinson was on a very short list when we started that search, and felt he was right for the job. And I’ll tell you he’s transitioned really, really well with our guys. What he’s teaching them, and his ability to relate to them in a short period of time. I think he’s doing a fantastic job.”

Luckily, there’s a veteran pitcher to aid with the adjustment for the pitching staff. Chesdin Harrington is a familiar name around Disharoon Park. Harrington is now in his fifth year for graduate school at Virginia, and is eligible to play because he missed all of the 2018 season due to elbow injury. He was arguably the team’s best pitcher last season, (5-1, 3.49 ERA) and is a likely candidate to be a key arm this season too, with his 3.68 overall ERA in 50 career appearances for UVA.

“I think Chesdin’s impact has been significant and will continue to be significant as we move into the spring,” O’Connor said. “You know he’s a veteran guy, that has been here 4 years now, now in his fifth year. Not only is he a really high-quality pitcher for us, he’s a great person and a great leader. Not only of our program and our team, but also within the University itself. I’m extremely excited he’s back and is going to be one of the key guys for us.”

Harrington’s leadership will be important and he should excel at being a mentor for the freshmen this year. One freshman fans should look out for is Matt Wyatt, who has already shown his 90-94 heat this fall. He already has been closing games with scoreless innings for the Hoos. In the first game of the Orange and Blue World Series, he struck out three straight batters to end the game. He had a scoreless inning against Liberty and pitched a scoreless final 3.1 innings against East Carolina in a pair of exhibitions too

Joining Wyatt in the freshman class at Virginia are Chris Newell and Max Cotier, who are projected to do big things for the team this year. Newell was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania last year, and will likely be the starting center fielder with his 6’2” presence. He drove in three runs in game 4. Cotier had his own offensive action, as he homered in game 2. Both had multiple RBIs in the series.

Harrington also will not be the only graduate school student on the team, as he is joined by transfer Stephen Schoch, who fans and opponents alike should look out for this season.

“Stephen Schoch, who closed the game tonight for the Orange team has had a fantastic fall for us,” O’Connor said Friday. “He’s a grad school transfer from UMBC and he’s really made a very good impact for us on the mound.”

Junior Devin Ortiz should be another relevant name this season. Ortiz is also listed as a pitcher, but this fall has been alternating between first and third base, seeing no time on the mound. He pitched in the Florida Gulf Coast League and Cape Cod League so the coaching staff kept him in the field only this fall. The field focus seems to be working, as he hit 3 home runs in the Orange and Blue series. Christian Hlinka is another potential option for first base, as he drove in three runs in game 4 and had a home run in game 5.

MLB’s World Series features UVA alums Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle. This year’s Blue and Orange World Series may have featured some future major league stars, too. With a team full of hot bats and composed pitching, this series proved the team’s potential for the upcoming season. The Hoos will be back on the diamond Feb. 14 for their first series against Oklahoma and will be back at Disharoon Park on Feb. 18 to face VMI.

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