Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Virginia Cavaliers. It’s a relationship that has stood for championships and launching pads to Omaha.
At 3 p.m., today, the old flame is sparked once again. That’s when third-seeded UVa will take on sixth-seeded Virginia Tech to begin ACC Tournament play. That’s when Durham’s good vibes can come back to greet these trophy-seeking Wahoos.
“Durham’s certainly been good to us,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “That being said, I don’t think anybody’s going to hand us over the crown.
“It’s a great ballpark. It’s one of those ballparks that you walk into and you just feel it. You feel like this is baseball. Maybe there’s a little bit extra hop in your step playing in that ballpark and playing in this tournament.
“We’ll see what happens. A lot has to go your way. You have to play great baseball to win this tournament.”
UVa knows all about putting that type of product on DBAP’s field. The Cavs have a pair of ACC Tournament titles in the O’Connor era. Both of them — 2009 and 2011 — came in this 10,000-seat facility in central North Carolina that the Durham Bulls call home.
Both championships have also kick-started Virginia runs to the College World Series.
“It’s weird,” said senior second baseman Reed Gragnani. “It’s creepy almost, how that lines up that way. But we’re not looking at it that way.
“There’s no added pressure since we’ve won it there in ’09 and ’11. It’s still taking care of the fundamentals, playing each pitch, doing the things that have helped us be successful all year.”
The fifth-ranked Wahoos finished the regular season with a program-tying record number of wins (45) and only nine losses. Four came to their first two opponents in this tournament.
UVa lost two of three to the Hokies (35-19, 15-14 ACC) on April 27-28. Virginia also lost a pair to seventh-seeded Georgia Tech (33-23, 15-15), its 11 a.m., Thursday opponent, during an April 12-14 series.
Is it payback time?
“There’s certainly no revenge factor or anything like that,” O’Connor said. “Both of those teams deserved to beat us in those series. Hopefully, we can come out and play a little bit better than we did in both their ballparks.”
Virginia Tech represents the first obstacle. The ‘Hoos will throw freshman lefty Brandon Waddell (5-1, 4.00 ERA) against a lineup that rocked them for 22 runs on 31 hits during that late April weekend.
The Hokies will have ace Joe Mantiply (5-0, 3.14) on the mound. The senior left-hander handcuffed the Cavs in their previous meeting, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings in a 5-3 Tech win at English Field.
“He’s a great pitcher,” said Gragnani, who went 0-for-2 with a walk against Mantiply. “He’s veteran guy. He changes speeds well. He keeps hitters off-balance. We’re looking forward to the challenge of facing him and just facing a great Virginia Tech ballclub.”
Added O’Connor: “Mantiply’s really had a nice career at Virginia Tech. I thought he pitched really well against us down there. He’ll be tough. Since he’s been back and been at full strength (suffered from forearm stiffness in February) this year, he’s pitched as good as anybody in this league. Certainly, we’ll have to be at our best from an offensive standpoint.”
Senior lefty Scott Silverstein (8-1, 3.19) will get the Yellow Jackets. Silverstein was masterful in the Cavs’ lone win in Atlanta this season, yielding just one run on two hits over seven innings.
The starter for Saturday’s 11 a.m. pool play finale with second-seeded Florida State (44-12, 20-10) remains TBA, but O’Connor told reporters Monday that Whit Mayberry (4-0, 1.67) would get a start this week.
The championship is 1 p.m., Sunday. Should UVa advance, normal Sunday starter Nick Howard (5-4, 3.43) could be an option.
But that’s if the Cavs are still playing. The ACC has the No. 1 RPI of any league in the nation.
“I’ve said it every year,” O’Connor said. “I think you have a better chance to get to Omaha, Nebraska, than you do winning the ACC Tournament. It’s that hard. You look at it, all eight teams are going to be in the NCAA Tournament.
“There’s no gimmies. It’s a tough grind, but hopefully we have that opportunity.”
And can recapture that Durham magic.