Virginia second baseman Branden Cogswell has had no trouble staying in the moment.
The Shenendehowa graduate wants to keep focused on the next pitch as his Cavaliers head into the College World Series championship series, a best-of-three matchup with Vanderbilt that begins tonight at 8. That task is made easier in Omaha, Neb., the perennial host of college baseball’s championship, where the atmosphere at TD Ameritrade Park and the 20,000 to 25,000 fans seem to keep one rooted in the moment.
“You’re speechless when you’re out there, and you just try to enjoy it and take in everything you can,” Cogswell said.
Whatever Cogswell could have said at any moment in Virginia’s nine games in the tournament — the last three of which have been in Omaha — he has said with his play.
Through the nine games, he is hitting .306 with seven runs, six RBI, three doubles, seven walks and three strikeouts. He has added a sacrifice fly and three sacrifice bunts, the bunts coming one apiece in the last three games. In the field, he is perfect with 19 putouts and 27 assists, and the team has a fielding percentage of .984.
At Omaha, he is hitting .400 (4-for-10) with four walks, two runs and an RBI.
“It’s a big ballpark here,” Cogswell said. “The wind howls in from center field, and you’re not going to drive balls in the gap or put them over the fence, so it’s a matter of keeping it simple and not trying to do too much.”
In the ninth inning of a 2-1 win over Mississippi on June 15, his sacrifice bunt moved pinch-runner Thomas Woodruff to second before Mike Papi drove him in with a game-winning double.
In the bottom of the 15th inning of last Tuesday’s 3-2 win over TCU, he bunted Woodruff over to third before Daniel Pinero’s sacrifice fly brought him home for the win. Also in that game, he scored the other two runs for the Cavs and had three of their 11 hits, two of them doubles.
On Saturday, the Cavs beat Ole Miss again, 4-1. After taking a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth, Cogswell gave them a little breathing room — something they hadn’t had since the Super Regional — with another bunt, this time a safety squeeze that brought home John La Prise for a 3-1 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Cavs surrendered a leadoff single, but the second batter sent a soft grounder to Cogswell, who started a 4-6-3 double play. Nick Howard struck out the next batter to send the Cavs to the championship series, sparking a moment Cogswell and the Cavs were glad to live in as long as it lasted.
“We got that ground ball — you can kind of still see it playing through your head, what with it being such an important part of the game,” Cogswell said. “Then Nick strikes out the last guy, and you take a step back and realize what you’ve accomplished. Even though we’ve still got work to do, few can say, ‘I’m playing for a national championship.’ I think a lot of guys enjoyed that last night. You saw a little more emotion last night than when we made it here.”
And for now, “here” is the best place to be. Cogswell is one of eight players on the Virginia team that was selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft a couple of weeks ago, three of them in the first 38 picks. Cogswell was taken 222nd overall by the Oakland Athletics in the seventh round, but he hasn’t even sat down to think much about that.
He hasn’t had a chance. Not in Omaha, where there’s something in the air, in the dirt and the grass, that keeps a player focused.
“There couldn’t be a better place to be right now than playing for a national championship,” he said. “Pro ball will come when this is over. I’ve looked forward to it, it’s a dream come true, but it really has not been on the minds of myself or the other guys, just because of what we’re trying to accomplish here and everything that is surrounding us in this atmosphere.”