Much like the bats for Virginia baseball, WWBN has been on an extended vacation. We're back and ready to roll. With Virginia Tech visiting for three over the weekend, let's hope that the bats got the memo that vacation was over.
We're covering game action between the end of the BC series and the ODU game on April 3. The Hoos came out of that stretch with a 16-13 record overall and 4-8 in ACC play. UVA's RPI jumped six places up to 122 after the ODU win this week. RPI data is courtesy of WarrenNolan.com.
The Hoos need both wins and RPI assistance. The RPI will be taken care of by the back loaded conference schedule, assuming they win enough games. But a couple additional wins in that column would look nice right now. And for that reason, it's unfortunate that the two game series versus Towson was cancelled because of weather. It would have been a good opportunity to get some of the younger players in the program some confidence at the plate and experience in the field. But much like seemingly everything this season, fortune broke the other way for the Hoos.
Instead, the Hoos only got in three games against Miami that week. The trip was pretty much a disaster as The U swept the three game set. UVA could manage only three runs over the entire weekend including a 1 to 0 shutout loss in the Saturday game. The season of injury misery continued as it was revealed that Sunday starter Evan Sperling was unable to take his scheduled start. Sperling was revealed to be suffering from forearm stiffness in his right (throwing) arm. There's no timetable yet for his return. Mid-week starter Bobby Nicholson got the nod in Sperling's place and lasted 1.1 innings while giving up 4 of Miami's 8 runs in the game. Only 2 of those runs were earned but the damage was already done. Overlooked in the Hoos' trip to the Pit of Misery was yet another sterling effort from Saturday starter Daniel Lynch. Lynch went seven, giving up Miami's only run but matched a career high of 11 strikeouts for the second week in a row.
The Hoos returned to Charlottesville licking their wounds to find a bad Longwood team awaiting them. The Lancers were just what the doctor ordered and UVA picked up an easy 6 to 0 win in Grant Donahue's first career start. Bobby Nicholson got back on the horse and put the Miami appearance in his rear view mirror after tossing three shutout innings. Mack Meyer joined Donahue and Nicholson to hold Longwood to 1 hit for the entire game. Andy Weber and Nate Eikhoff were the offensive stars of the game.
The next day, UVA made the quick trip down 64 East for the annual game versus VCU at The Diamond, the home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. VCU, in the midst of a long winning streak, jumped on the Hoos early on their way to an 11 to 3 win. After two innings of play, the Rams held a 7 to 0 lead and I was left to contemplate if I should research Division 1 Baseball's mercy rule. Griff McGarry got the start and took the brunt of VCU's outburst but none of the UVA pitchers (Mack Meyer, Riley Wilson, Kyle Whitten) had nights to write home about.
A trip to ACC cellar dweller Pittsburgh is normally a sure thing, especially considering that the Panthers had never won a series versus UVA. But this season? Not so much. Insert sad trombone sound here as Pitt took 2 out of 3. The Hoos opened strong as their offense produced double figure runs for only the seventh time all season in the 10 to 7 win. Things trended downhill on offense the rest of the weekend as the run total decreased from ten on Friday to five on Saturday and down again to one on Sunday. The offense felt particularly listless on Sunday as the Hoos managed only 3 hits. Derek Casey picked up a win with a workman like effort Friday as he went 7.0 innings and struck out 9 while surrendering 7 runs (only 4 earned). Bennett Sousa picked up his third save of the season pitching 2 scoreless innings. Tanner Morris, Andy Weber, Cameron Comer, and Justin Novak carried the offense with Comer hitting the first homer of his career. On Saturday, Daniel Lynch was not as crisp as he's been since shifting to the Saturday starting spot but he did set a new career high with 12 strikeouts. In his 7.1 IP, he allowed 4 hits and 5 runs (all earned). But it was freshman lefty Andrew Abbott who was credited with the loss. Abbott surrendered 2 hits, 1 walk, and 2 runs (earned) in just 0.1 IP as Pitt rallied from a 5 to 4 deficit in the bottom of the 8th with 3 runs. Those runs were the difference as the Panthers held UVA scoreless in the top of the 9th to win 7 to 5. Andy Weber was the unquestioned offensive star for the Hoos. The great news continued to pour in for UVA as Grant Donahue took the Sunday starting spot because Bobby Nicholson was unavailable to pitch because he was suspended for a team rules violation. The suspension was reported after the fact as well as an illness that is now preventing Caleb Knight from catching. Knight played first base on Saturday but did not play on Sunday. The bright spot, I suppose, in Sunday's game was UVA's bullpen. In 5.1 innings of relief, they allowed only 1 run, 4 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 9. Actually, there's no "I suppose" about it. That was outstanding work.
Given what transpired at Pitt, I had a little trepidation about the ODU game. The Monarchs always play us hard and typically have a good team. ODU is also having a down year, however, and I was feeling more confident about the matchup after conducting my research for the game preview. The Hoos did not let me down, taking the game 4 to 0. UVA scored 3 of their 4 runs in the bottom of the first and cruised from there. Alex Tappen and Andy Weber paced the offense while Bobby Nicholson and a cast of relievers threw a shutout. Nicholson went 5.1 IP before handing it over to Andrew Abbott (1.1 IP). Other pitchers making an appearance were Mack Meyer (1.1 IP), Riley Wilson (0.1 IP), and Bennett Sousa (1.0 IP). The only downside of the pitching performance were the 5 hit batters by UVA. Nicholson accounted for 4 of the 5 including the game's first two hitters.
Someone, probably a Hokie or the Vandy Whistler, wrapped a copy of the UVA baseball roster around a voodoo doll and began inserting pins at random. It's the only explanation for never ending parade of players in this space. Since our last update, we have another two additions.
RHP Noah Murdock: out for the season with right elbow surgery
OF Cameron Simmons: out for the season with shoulder surgery
OF Jake McCarthy: out several more weeks with a wrist injury
RHP Chesdin Harrington: still out an undetermined amount of time because of right elbow soreness
RHP Evan Sperling (new): out an undetermined amount of time because of right forearm stiffness
C/1B/DH Caleb Knight (new): out an undetermined amount of time due to an undisclosed illness
In the good news department, starting outfielder Charlie Cody was not injured in the dogpile celebration following his walk off sac fly in the bottom of the 10th against Boston College. There was some heightened concern when Cody was seen limping off the field and then did not start in the series opener at Miami.
Junior Jack Weiller also saw his first game action of the season in the Miami series. Weiller has battled hip issues throughout his career at UVA. It was not known that he was unavailable up until now this season.
Players Of The Week
WWBN is covering two weeks' worth of action this edition.
Pitcher - Daniel Lynch runs his streak to three awards in a row. His start against Pitt wasn't great but he did set a new career high with 12 strikeouts after setting and then matching his career high at 11 in his previous two starts. Also, his start against Miami was so good that it carries the day for this award cycle.
Hitter - Make no mistake about it, the UVA offense is struggling. It's not unexpected given the personnel losses from last year and the injury situation this season. But someone has to win, so Andy Weber is getting recognized. Weber's .368 batting average is the only regular playing with an average over the .300 mark. Jake McCarthy is hitting over .300 but is injured and Jalen Harrison is hitting .500 on the year in two at bats. Weber leads the team in hits, doubles, triples, RBI, runs, and is second in homers. Sunday's game at Pitt also saw his 13 game hit streak come to an end.
As the Hoos search for the best lineup in the field and at the plate while trying to develop their young talent, there's been a lot of shuffling of the lineup lately. The injury situation accounts for much of that too.
Cayman Richardson appears to have seized control of the job in CF until McCarthy is able to return. He's moved up into the 2 hole in the batting order lately too.
Nate Eikhoff had moved back to his original position of 3B lately until Caleb Knight was forced to miss action. Justin Novak was struggling from the 2 spot in the batting order and with his defense at 3B. The switch also resulted in Cameron Comer taking over catching duties full time from Knight who then moved over into the 1B spot vacated by Eikhoff.
Knight's illness has allowed Novak back on the field at 3B as Eikhoff was needed once again at 1B.
The DH spot continues to be a revolving door. It feels like Coach O'Connor is using the DH spot to try to find a hot bat on the bench to spark the offense while adjusting for needed player rest and injury situations. Since our last edition, Caleb Knight, Brendan Rivoli, Jack Weiller, Andrew Papantonis, Christian Hlinka, and Justin Novak have taken at least one at bat as the UVA designated hitter. The revolving door certainly indicates that no one has run away with the job but it's worth considering that consistent at bats for a player or two at the position may yield better results as hitting in baseball often requires rhythm and consistent opportunity. I don't have several College World Series appearances or a national title on my resume, however.
It would be a cop out to omit this section but it's not going to be pretty. The Hoos are not ranked in any of the college baseball polls.
The Florida Gators are the unanimous top team in the polls this week. Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball, the NCBWA, PefectGame.org, and the USA Today Coaches Poll all have the defending CWS champs at the top. College Baseball Daily likely would too but they have not released their poll yet this week.
Speaking of not pretty...
It's time to talk about the streak. The Hoos have advanced to NCAA Tournament regional play every year under Brian O'Connor. That's 14 consecutive appearances. It's good for the fourth longest active streak behind Florida State, Cal State Fullerton, and Rice. The FSU streak is at 40 years so no one is catching that anytime soon especially since Fullerton's streak is only 26 years long. Rice's streak stands at 23 years and required a miracle to continue last season as Rice needed to, and did, win the Conference USA Tournament to secure their automatic berth.
Unless something crazy happens, FSU will extend their streak to 41 years.
Fullerton's streak appears to be in danger as they're 12-15 currently and 1-2 in Big West conference play. Conference leader Hawaii is 2-1 in the league and 16-10 overall. The Titans will have to get their act together to extend their streak but it's not out of the question yet.
Rice appears to be in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament again as their record is only 12-19 and 2-7 in CUSA play. They hold a one game lead over last place Marshall.
All of this points towards a huge opportunity for UVA but at this point, it's safe to put the Hoos' own chances on life support. Both Baseball America and D1 Baseball released their mid-season Field of 64 projections this week with the Hoos nowhere to be found. Baseball America took things a step further and broke out the bubble but still no Hoos.
Absent a miracle run in the ACC Tournament, UVA's streak will end at 14 years this season. They'll miss the opportunity to take advantage of a down year for Fullerton and a back sliding program at Rice to vault into the second longest active streak.
For the Hoos, that miracle ACC Tournament championship currently looks doubtful as well. The ACC Baseball Tournament format only advances 12 of 14 teams into pool play. With four teams sitting at 4-8 in conference play, the tiebreakers would need to work their magic to get the Hoos into the field (I think Notre Dame and BC are on the outside looking in today).
UVA has no room for error the rest of the season if they want to make the ACC Tournament. The conference schedule is unforgiving the rest of the way as three game series remain with Virginia Tech (home), North Carolina (home), Louisville (away), Clemson (home), Georgia Tech (home), and Wake Forest (away).
That aforementioned series with the Hokies is set to begin Friday in Charlottesville. It would be a great time to capture the first series sweep of the season. After the Hokies is a mid-week home game on April 11 against Radford.