Xavier baseball will keep on winning -- if Billy O'Conner has anything to say about it

O'Conner is a hometown talent, Elder grad
Xavier baseball will keep on winning -- if Billy O'Conner has anything to say about it
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-04 12:00:16-04

CINCINNATI -- If the hallmark of a quality coach is to conduct business as usual after a major promotion, then new Xavier baseball skipper Billy O'Conner is on the right track.

O'Conner was promoted from a four-year Musketeers assistant to the seventh head coach in program history on June 20 -- and six days later, he'd already returned to the recruiting trail. It's the same schedule he kept last year, and each of the three years prior.

"I really enjoy being out on the road and finding new players and giving them the opportunity to find out about Xavier," O'Conner said. "I still want to do a lot of the same things I did as an assistant as far as getting to interact with recruits and getting to interact with our players."

Things at Xavier have finally settled down after an eventful two weeks: 12-year coach Scott Googins accepted the head baseball role at the University of Cincinnati and XU athletic director Greg Christopher promoted 30-year-old O'Conner to the Musketeers' open position. 

Googins' departure for UC was announced just two days after XU lost in the NCAA tournament regional final to Louisville.

It was a strange limbo, O'Conner said.

"We've been to three regionals in the past four years and usually that first week afterward, you get to sit back and kind of enjoy things a little bit," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot of sitting back and there wasn't a whole lot of enjoying."

The athletic director said he has full faith in the young coach.

"Billy is the full package when it comes to his playing, coaching and recruiting experience," Christopher said. "His passion for Xavier, mind for the game and tireless recruiting efforts have made him an invaluable part of our coaching staff during some great years for the program."

Billy O'Conner helped Xavier's baseball team to three Big East Championships in the last four years and consecutive NCAA tournament regional finals. (Photo provided by Xavier University)

Indeed, O'Conner helped coach the Musketeers to three Big East Championships in four years and two straight NCAA tournament regional finals.

It wasn't all that long ago that the Elder High School graduate starred as the Musketeers' catcher.

After playing his first two collegiate seasons at Indiana, O'Conner transferred to Xavier and helped the team clinch its first NCAA tournament bid via a 2009 Atlantic 10 Championship. He was named Most Outstanding Player for his performance in that tournament.

He batted .333 with two home runs and 39 RBI as a senior and then, after graduating XU with a finance degree in 2009, played two seasons of professional ball. O'Conner spent a year in the Texas Rangers' system and a year with the Frontier League's Washington Wild Things.

O'Conner said he enjoyed playing in the independent Frontier League. But the year with the Rangers' organization? Not so much.

"There are a lot of politics that go into minor league baseball. It's very much about development. It's not nearly as much about wins and losses," he said. "For me that was pretty tough because that's how I'm wired. I just want to win the game and do whatever it takes for that. In minor league baseball, that's not really the attitude. It's about, 'How can we develop guys that we have a lot of money invested in to make the Major Leagues?' That's a tough dynamic for me and not something I enjoyed that much.

Although O'Conner hoped to be picked up again to play affiliated ball, he didn't have "a very good year" with the Wild Things and decided to channel his love of the sport to coaching.

"I was incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to play professional baseball. I learned a lot and grew a lot and wouldn't trade it for anything," he said. "But honestly, going to the Frontier League was really fun for me and really allowed me to start loving baseball again. It got me back to being part of a team and being on the road again and doing everything we could to go out and win a game."

He served as a volunteer assistant with Northern Kentucky University's baseball team for a year and then spent two years as a Xavier volunteer assistant, thanks to an invite from Googins. O'Conner was promoted to paid assistant after that. He spent four years under Googins in that capacity.

O'Conner said he learned a great deal from his former coach and mentor, like "treating people the right way." He plans to take those lessons into his new role.

One other thing: He expects the Musketeers' success to continue immediately despite the loss of the winningest coach in XU history (Googins), the graduation of eight seniors, and the departures of MLB First-Year Player Draft selections Zac Lowther, Rylan Bannon, Garrett Schilling and Greg Jacknewitz.

"My full expectation is that we're going to go in and win a Big East Championship," O'Conner said. "And we're going to take that next step where we don't get knocked out in the regional final this year. We're going to make it to a Super (Regional). We're going to make it to Omaha.

"By no means do I view this as a rebuilding year. We've got all the talent that we need to be successful."