Branden Cogswell will do anything to make the Virginia Cavaliers better.
Even if that means playing a different position for the first time in his baseball career. If moving the former Shenendehowa shortstop to the other side of second base helps the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers get to Omaha, consider Cogswell ready and willing.
“I’ve played shortstop my whole life, but you want to put the best nine guys out there,” Cogswell said. “If that means me playing second base or left field, I don’t really care. I’m glad to have an important role in this team, to be in the lineup and help contribute.”
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said shifting Cogswell to second base allows him to play another defensively sound middle infielder at shortstop and create a solid double-play combination. He said Cogswell was excellent at shortstop, but the overall infield defense needed to improve.
“He’s made a lot of exceptional plays already at second base, and quite frankly, that’s probably where he profiles more at the next level of baseball, in his career,” O’Connor said. “His pride he shows from a defensive standpoint just shows he’s the consummate team player. It’s about the team winning and doing what it takes to have success every day instead of what an individual wants. He’s been very unselfish in this move over to second base, and he’s always said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I need to do to give the team the best chance to win,’ and that’s what you want out of your leaders.”
When Cogswell came to Virginia, he had to work his way into the lineup. He played in 41 games, starting 27 of them, hitting .260 for a team that finished 39-19-1 overall and 18-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As a sophomore last season, both he and the team showed great improvement. He hit .346, starting all 47 games in which he appeared, as Virginia went 50-12 overall and 22-8 in the ACC. He broke one of his fingers, though, near the end of the season and missed the Cavs’ postseason run to the Super Regionals.
Through the first 16 games this season, Cogswell was hitting .254 for the 13-3 Cavs. He was still perfect in the field this season, raising his career fielding percentage to .960 in 104 games. He was hitting .303 for his career with an on-base percentage of .437, and he had grounded into double plays just three times.
He said it took him a little while as a freshman to adjust to the next level of the game.
“It’s a big jump from high school to college baseball, the pace of the game and just trying to figure out the ins and outs, the details that go behind baseball that you thought you knew but didn’t know,” Cogswell said.
“Picking things up from the opposing team, the likelihood of where balls are going to be hit based on the pitches being thrown. There’s so much more that goes on behind every pitch. Every pitch in high school, it’s like, ‘This is what I’m going to do if the ball is hit to me.’ In college, it’s like, ‘This guy is probably going to hit the ball here, or he’s going to hit it the other way,’ so you can anticipate things that are going to happen. Through all those repititions, it slows it down and you learn what is likely going to happen, and you can put yourself in a better position to make that play.”
Despite all Cogswell said he didn’t know, O’Connor said his first impression was that Cogswell was a great athlete with a deep understanding of the game.
“He immediately made an impression on me, from an athletic standpoint and as far as his knowledge and understanding of the game,” O’Connor said. “Then, secondly, he’s just a first-class young man. He’s really developed, here, into a true leader of our team. He does it the right way and is unselfish, puts the team in front of his own personal ambition.”
Though he got off to a bit of a slow start at the plate this season, Cogswell knows as long as he remains reliable with his glove, there are other hitters who can pick him up at the plate.
“I got off to a slow start, and there’s things I’ve had to adjust and simplify,” Cogswell said. “Hitting is a thing that can change from week to week. You don’t look at numbers. You know they’re there, but you try not to look at them. Defensively, if you can handle the baseball, you’re going to be in every game. There are so many guys around me on this team who are very good baseball players, and you’re not pressing for one guy to do well at the plate for the team to have success.”
Relying on each other allows the Cavs to focus on their individual roles, Cogswell said, doing what is asked of each of them without any one player trying to do it all. So he will concentrate on fielding and moving runners over from his spot at the top of the lineup, and hope Virginia can make it back to the College World Series in Omaha. The Cavs got there in 2009 and 2011, but last year they were eliminated by Mississippi State in the Super Regionals in two games.
“Last year, that hurt, when we were two games away from Omaha, and we want to experience that,” Cogswell said. “We haven’t experienced it since we’ve been here. This school has, before my class got here. But the results will take care of themselves if we just give it everything we’ve got and do what we can.”