By the result, it was a pretty standard Wednesday in March for the Virginia baseball team.
The Cavaliers, ranked as high as fifth in the national polls, handled Towson (13-10) without much of a problem, 7-1. Coach Brian O’Connor got four-plus innings out of his starter, his bullpen was stingy again and the lineup was productive in its usual spots.
But UVa winning wasn’t the full story this particular Wednesday. The Wahoos have now done that 23 times in 25 games this season, but they’ve never beat a team possibly playing its last season ever.
Like they have since a March 8 decision to end the program, the Tigers wore tape — black and yellow — over “Towson” on their uniforms at Davenport Field. It’s a sign of protest against the school triggered by the players.
“The day it was announced I was busy with 9,000 things about the decision, mostly answering phone calls and doing [interviews],” said longtime Towson coach Mike Gottlieb. “And then I show up at the ballpark and [saw the name taped over]. I just laughed. I said, ‘Great.’”
On March 8, Towson University president Maravene Loeschke announced the school would do away with the baseball and men’s soccer programs in order to balance the athletic budget and help with Title IX compliance.
Gottlieb’s bunch was told of the news via a meeting that reportedly lasted three minutes and included Loeschke being escorted by police officers.
The situation has since moved into the national spotlight.
“The people who made this decision underestimated the outcry in the Towson community, in the state of Maryland, government officials,” Gottlieb said. “This was on ESPN Radio. This got a blurb in the New York Post. I think it was [on] CNN online.
“Other than getting the name ‘Towson’ out there, nothing has been positive.”
Gottlieb said a recent development involving support from the Maryland state comptroller has given hope that baseball just might continue at Towson.
But, as of Wednesday, the program was still a lame duck.
“I hate to see it,” said O’Connor, who has played the Tigers at least once in each of the past five seasons. “Baseball’s our national pastime and you hate to see opportunities taken away from young people.
“They’ve had a baseball program there for a long time. They’ve got a great coach who’s been there a long time. Their kids play hard. You just hate to see that opportunity potentially taken away from them.”
UVa’s Brandon Downes went 2-for-3 with an RBI on Wednesday to raise his batting average to .319. He’s a talented sophomore center fielder who is expected to contribute significantly to the Wahoos’ success for at least one more season.
There’s a chance a Towson player won’t have that same option for their program.
“What would you do?,” Downes said. “Every day, you go on the field knowing your program’s done the next year. Maybe it motivates them a little bit more to go out every day and give it their all, but I don’t know what I would do if I was in their shoes.”
Virginia freshman left-hander Nathan Kirby, who provided 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief on Wednesday, expressed similar sentiment.
“It was definitely kind of like a double-edged sword feeling,” Kirby said. “It felt good to get the win, but, at the same time, you have to put yourself in their shoes a little bit and kind of know what they’re going through.
“I feel bad because I can’t imagine what it would be like not knowing where I was going to be able to play baseball next year.”
Gottlieb said he started contacting other programs about his players the day after the Tigers were hit with the news. They’ll be able to transfer.
As for Gottlieb, 56, his future remains unclear.
“I’ll get by,” said the Towson skipper of 26 years. “I got a degree. I’ll get a job somewhere. It might not be in baseball. I hope to God it is, but it might not be.
“But it’s not about me. It’s about these kids landing on their feet, finishing out with some dignity and pride.”
The Cavaliers tipped their hats on Wednesday.
“I really feel for them,” Downes said. “It sucks that their program’s getting cut, but I kind of think it’s cool what they’re doing, just using the duct tape every day.”