Freshman lefty Brandon Waddell has been Virginia's No. 1 starter throughout this season. And coach Brian O'Connor says that won't change in Friday's NCAA regional opener against Army.
“I’m very comfortable starting Brandon Waddell tomorrow," O'Connor told reporters at Thursday's coaches' news conference at Davenport Field.
"The fact that this is his first NCAA tournament that he’s played in, and the fact that he’s getting the ball in the opening game, one, he deserves it," O'Connor said. "He started on Friday for us all year long. I think he’s pretty good, and he’s got the poise and maturity to handle the situation.”
Waddell enters Friday's start at 5-2 on the season, with a 4.02 ERA. He was touched up for 10 hits and six runs (though only two were earned) in four innings in last week's 10-1 loss to Virginia Tech in UVa's ACC tournament opener.
But on Thursday, Waddell didn't sound like a kid who would be overwhelmed by the idea of making his NCAA playoff debut a day later.
"Really, honestly, like I said -- It's a game I've played my whole life," he explained. "I'm going to go out there and not worry about the things I can't control, and focus on the things I can. It's the only way you can really approach it. So basically go out there and try to make pitches."
"He always had that bulldog mentality. He always had the confidence," said Waddell's catcher, sophomore Nate Irving. "But I think at times he's learned how to manage it."
"He's learned to deal with the failure a little bit, just like everybody has," Irving said. "And I think that's really going to help going forward, because we're going to face some really great teams that are going to get some hits. They'e going to hit good pitches. So that's going to help."
"We've got all the confidence in the world in him. And he's been doing it all year. So just, it's another game," said senior second baseman Reed Gragnani. "We're looking forward to a great start from him tomorrow."
Gragnani and first baseman Jared King are among the handful of Cavaliers who have experience beyond the regional round. The rest of the Virginia lineup includes freshman outfielder Joe McCarthy, and six sophomores who played on last year's team that had its season end in a regional loss to Oklahoma.
"There's going to be times when we get punched. And we have to be able to persevere through these moments," Gragnani said. "But playing in a tough league like the ACC, those guys have experienced all the battles, and all the hard-nosed teams that we've played."
"We just learn from that experience. We know. Especially the young guys, going through that one time, it didn't really pan out the way we want it to," said one of those sophomores, infielder/pitcher Nick Howard. "But we're going to take that as a learning experience going into this postseason, and make those clutch plays."
"There's a point to which you just kind of get out there and you go play," said Irving." "And the situation, the magnitude of the game doesn't really matter anymore."
"As a younger guy, you kind of start thinking, "Wow, this is the NCAA Tournament. This is the real deal." But now it's just another game for us," Irving added. "It's a great opponent. It's a chance for us to come out here and get better, and that's what we're looking forward to."
"A lot has been made about the youth we have on our ballclub," said O'Connor. "But our team has played this year as consistent as we have had a club play here in my time. And we're just really excited to get started with NCAA baseball."