Bacher reflects on Virginia’s National Title run
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
During the University of Virginia (UVA) men’s basketball team’s ride to the National Championship this season, no one had a better seat along the way than Stevens Point native Erich Bacher.
The assistant athletics director for public relations at UVA, Bacher worked from press row as his longtime friend, head coach Tony Bennett, guided the Virginia men’s basketball team to its first National Title, which was capped with an 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech in the National Championship Game in Minneapolis Monday, April 8.
“Winning a National Title is an incredible feeling,” said Bacher. “I’m so happy for everyone involved in the program.
“And just really thankful to play a supporting role with this great program at UVA,” he said.
A Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) graduate, Bacher grew up with Tony Bennett in Stevens Point during the time Tony’s father Dick was the men’s basketball head coach at UWSP from 1976 to 1985, and has worked since 2012 at UVA, where he is the primary media relations contact for its men’s basketball and women’s rowing programs.
The Virginia men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1984 with an 80-75 overtime victory over Purdue in the Elite Eight March 30, and followed against Auburn in the National Semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Saturday, April 6.
Down 61-57 late, Virginia used a three-pointer from junior guard Kyle Guy with 7.4 seconds left to close within 61-60, and following a free throw from Auburn that made it 62-60, Guy caught an inbound pass with 1.5 seconds to play and drew contact as he put up a shot that was off the mark when the final buzzer sounded.
However, Auburn was called for a foul on the shot, and Guy knocked down all three free-throw attempts with 0.6 seconds remaining, as Virginia went on to a 63-62 win to advance to the National Championship Game for the first time.
“It was a great college basketball game; it could’ve gone either way,” said Bacher. “On Kyle’s shot from the corner, I didn’t see the foul call.
“So I was basically getting up and congratulating my colleague, and he said, ‘thank you… but wait, there might be a foul called,’” he said. “So I sat back down, and sure enough, he got fouled.
“So when he went to the line with a chance to essentially win the game with three free throws, and Kyle knocked down three free throws, it was just incredible,” he said. “Ice water in his veins, certainly, and to do that on that stage was awesome to see.”
Two days later, Virginia took on Texas Tech Monday, April 8, in a National Championship Game that went down to the wire.
In a game that saw 13 lead changes and nine ties, Virginia trailed 68-65 when sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter hit a three-pointer with 12.9 seconds left in regulation to even the score at 68-68 and eventually force overtime, where the Cavaliers were down 73-70 with 3:10 to play.
Guy hit a pair of free throws and Hunter followed with a three-pointer with 2:09 remaining to give Virginia the lead for good at 75-73, as the Cavaliers went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line in overtime to close out an 85-77 overtime win to capture their first National Title in program history.
“That was one of the best National Championship Games that I’ve seen, probably Top 5 in my lifetime,” said Bacher. “There were several articles that came out that said that, ‘Texas Tech against Virginia was going to set the game of college basketball back,’ and it proved otherwise when you saw those two teams going at it, head to head.
“We came up with a lot of clutch plays down the stretch, and especially with De’Andre’s three-pointer from the wing, and then Braxton Key blocking the last-second shot attempt (at the end of regulation), and then going to overtime, where we gained control,” he said. “We just outlasted them, and that’s been our motto throughout the season, and throughout coach Bennett’s tenure here at Virginia.”
While the Virginia players and coaches celebrated a National Championship on the court, Bacher had to hold back until later, as he coordinated television and radio interviews immediately after the final buzzer.
During the Final Four, his wife Carley and sons E.J. and Christian sat behind him in the stands, along with a number of his close friends and former SPASH teammates in Ben Johnson, Jay and Steve Schell, Scott Gulan, Pete Clark, Bob Nelson, Phil and John Neppl, Rick Stevens and Mark Bohlman.
Meanwhile, his mother Rita Scott watched from home in Stevens Point, and his brothers Patrick and Scott tuned in.
“My mom has been with me every step of the way,” said Bacher. “She tries to watch Virginia basketball whenever she can at home, either on TV or online on the computer, and I’m so happy that she was able to watch and enjoy this moment as well.
“And just knowing that my wife and kids, and former teammates and friends, were in the crowd behind me, that made it extra special for me,” he said. “They were a part of this, and that was what I really thought was cool.”
With the increased media attention and workload for the trip to the Final Four, Bacher said that he wouldn’t be able to do it without a lot of help from the staff at UVA, and that it’s an all-in team effort.
In Minneapolis, he also was able to share in the experience with another one of his longtime friends, as Tony Bennett won his first National Championship as a head coach.
“Tony Bennett is the best basketball coach in the country,” said Bacher. “And I’m just thankful he brought me to Virginia to work for this program.
“I couldn’t be happier for Tony and his family,” he said. “And all of the other people that were with us on this journey.”