O'Connor has turned the Cavaliers, which at one time were a non-factor in the ACC or NCAA postseason race, into one of the nation's elite programs. The Cavaliers have reached the College World Series two of the last three seasons.
So, when the Cavaliers got off to a slow start this season, it was a tough pill to swallow. But in a way, it was one that was somewhat expected by O'Connor and his coaching staff after losing several key cogs from last year's team, notably two-way star Danny Hultzen.
The Cavaliers hit rock bottom in early March when they went 1-2 in their own tournament with losses to Seton Hall and Wright State. And things were further complicated a couple of weekends later, getting swept at Florida State.
Now, as the Cavaliers continue to get more games under the belt, this team is slowly but surely getting better and better, and now comes the national attention. The Cavaliers have won seven of their last nine ACC games, and are in good shape overall with a 23-10 record.
"I think anytime you have consistent success and your'e winning a majority of your games, and you're not winning at that rate anymore, there can be frustrations," O'Connor said. "I really thought despite that, our coaching staff and players handled the adversity well."
Though the Cavaliers have made significant strides on the mound the past few weeks, it's the offense that has allowed this team to keep their head above water for much of the season. The Cavaliers are hitting .316 as a team with Jared King (.368/3/35), Stephen Bruno (.336/2/30) and Keith Werman (.322/0/16) leading the way.
King has been a very consistent bat for the Cavaliers this season, while Werman has increased his batting average nearly 70 points over the last month. Meanwhile, Bruno has made significant strides both offensively and defensively at third base.
"We are clicking right now. Our lineup has figured it out," he said. "Some of the younger players in our lineup have 100 at bats under their belt, so they now understand how they're going to be pitched at this level."
No freshman has garnered more attention this spring than 6-foot-3, 210-pound, outfielder Derek Fisher. Fisher was ranked the No. 11 player nationally by PG in the 2011 signing class, and certainly is living up to that billing. Though Fisher only is hitting .301, he's leading the team with five home runs, and also has 33 RBIs.
"It's easy to point to Derek as an improving product. Over the last month, he really has emerged for us," he said. "He's getting a lot more extra-base hits and some big RBIs. He's really starting to put everything together."
While the offense leads the way for Virginia, another big key to this sudden emergence is the development of the pitching staff.
The Cavaliers recently got bad news with right-handed pitcher Whit Mayberry, who was throwing very well, being lost for the season because of a UCL injury. However, several pitchers are stepping up in his absence.
"You know, the offense has been there the whole year, but the pitching staff has been much, much better the last month," he said. "When we've made this turn as a team, our pitching staff has been more consistent."
O'Connor points to improved relief pitching as a chief reason for the vast improvements. The Cavaliers have several talented relievers throwing well, including Shane Halley (1.85, 24 1/3 IP), Justin Thompson (1.86, 19 1/3 IP), Austin Young (3.57, 17 2/3 IP) and Kyle Crockett (3.86, 28 IP).
Starting-wise, heralded right-handed pitcher Branden Kline, one of the top prospects for the upcoming MLB draft, struggled early in the season but has since settled into a groove. Kline has a 3.19 ERA in 53 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 53 and walked 19, while teams are hitting him at a .221 clip.
"He was having to throw so many pitches the first month of the season, he was just trying to get everyone to swing and miss at everything," he said. "Once he started to be more efficient and consistently throwing strikes, he got back on track. Lately, his fastball command and velocity have been better."
Kline has been sitting in the 90-94 range with his fastball the past couple of weeks, while also continuing to use that nasty slider.
Meanwhile, O'Connor can't argue too much with the production by Scott Silverstein and Artie Lewicki. Silverstein made headlines in the fall when his fastball sat in the mid 90s, and he has put together a 2.62 ERA in 44 2/3 innings this spring. Lewicki hasn't been nearly as consistent, but again, like the others, is getting in a groove.
"Silverstein is walking a few too many guys for my liking, but he has done a very solid job for the most part. We really needed Scott to emerge with the guys we lost," he said. "Artie has done a nice job filling in. He and Scott aren't guys who are going to dominate for seven or eight innings, but they can put together good starts."
Once thought to be in trouble just two weeks into ACC play, the outlook has changed for the Cavaliers. Suddenly, they're 9-6 in conference and have a very good RPI of 14, certainly a lock to make the NCAA postseason at this point, barring a nasty collapse to end the regular season.
It's hard to imagine the Cavaliers would be in this good of shape when you saw their situation a month ago. But through hard work, and you know, patience, things are back on track entering this weekend's home series against North Carolina.
The Cavaliers are just getting started.
"It has been exciting. This day and age in college baseball, it's hard to win at an elite level all the time with how most programs go through cycles," he said. "We have a really good club and I think we're setup well for the stretch run. I think this team could develop into a very dangerous club by the postseason."
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and can be reached at email@example.com