DURHAM, N.C. — During Virginia’s run of 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Coach Brian O’Connor, the Cavaliers often relied on strong starting pitching. But things have changed over the past two seasons — especially this campaign.
Injuries, inconsistent performances and inexperience have led to a dearth of quality starts for Virginia, which is in danger of missing out of the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row after losing both its ACC Tournament contests.
“We showed signs of getting better, but as of late it hasn’t been what it’s needed to be,” O’Connor said.
Sophomore right-hander Griff McGarry started Virginia’s first game of the season despite an uneven freshman campaign. He struggled to develop a rhythm as this year wore on and missed the final couple weeks of the regular season with an undisclosed “setback.”
He didn’t start in either of the conference tournament games, instead coming out of the bullpen in Thursday’s 10-3 loss to Miami. He allowed three earned runs in 1⅓ innings.
Virginia’s other two primary weekend starters — right-handers Mike Vasil and Noah Murdock — have also been inconsistent. Right-hander Chesdin Harrington, a senior, started the season in long relief but found himself in the weekend rotation by the end of the regular season.
Harrington started Wednesday’s conference tournament opener against North Carolina and left having allowed just two earned runs in 5⅓ innings, but right-hander Devin Ortiz hit a batter with the bases load in the bottom of the 10th inning, handing the Tar Heels a 3-2 walk-off victory.
O’Connor on Thursday stressed the importance of his staff improving its location if the team gets an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“From a pitching standpoint, we gave a lot of what they call ‘free 90s’ away this year,” he said. “You go and look at our losses, there’s a significant amount of them in most of those games.”
The longtime coach also noted a poignant stat before he departed the interview room in Durham and returned home to Charlottesville: This season’s Virginia team returned the fewest number of innings from its pitchers in O’Connor’s 16 seasons, with a difference of 70 innings fewer than the next lowest season.
“When you lack experience in something like that, you typically struggle,” he said.