One Commonwealth Clash point is up for grabs as UVA and Virginia Tech get together for their annual ACC Coastal baseball series. The Hoos have the honor of hosting this season. Virginia is badly in need of wins, especially conference wins, to climb up the ACC standings and solidify a berth into the ACC Tournament. The Hokies will require no more motivation than simply seeing Virginia on the opposing jersey in order to pull out all the stops in pursuit of a series victory.
The Hokies currently lead the aforementioned Commonwealth Clash 7.5 to 4.5, so the series point will be critical for those that follow the contest.
Weather concerns have already altered the series format. Instead of the traditional three games-three days format, there will be a double header Friday and a single game Sunday.
Friday (Game 1) - 3:30 PM
Friday (Game 2) - 40 minutes after Game 1's conclusion
Sunday - 1 PM
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday (Game 1) - UVA: RHP Derek Casey (3-2, 4.02 ERA, 47.0 IP, 11 walks, 63 strikeouts) vs VT: RHP Connor Coward (2-2, 3.04 ERA, 47.1 IP, 20 walks, 54 strikeouts)
By this point in the season, we know what we're getting from Derek Casey. He's going to eat innings, give up some hits, maybe hit a guy or two, have a wild pitch, and strike out a lot of guys. And while his ERA has crept up after moving into the Friday spot, the Hoos will likely receive an effort good enough for the team to win. Casey is ranked second in the ACC in strikeouts and twelfth nationally. His 63 strikeouts to date this season are also a career high.
The Hokies will counter with senior right hander Connor Coward. Coward became a full time starter during his junior season where he made 12 starts in 17 total appearances. His 12 starts led the team last season. This season, all 7 of his appearances are starts. As his numbers show, Coward has been a pretty steady pitcher all season. The Hoos will hope to get the version of Coward that started three weeks ago at Georgia Tech. In a 16 to 9 Yellow Jackets win, Coward was rocked over 5.1 innings for 11 hits and 10 runs (6 earned). He gave up 2 walks and struck out 4 in that outing while also allowing 2 homeruns. UVA will be hard pressed to win Friday's first game if the Hokies get a performance from Coward like he delivered last Friday in a 10 to 2 win at home versus NC State. Coward went 8.0 innings in that contest giving up 3 hits and 2 runs (none earned). He only walked 1 against the Wolfpack while striking out 9.
Coward's first career win came against UVA in his freshman season (2015) during a relief appearance. In that game, VT beat number one ranked UVA 6 to 5. Last season, the Hoos got to Coward early and often for 8 runs (all earned) in 3.0 IP. Coward gave up 10 hits in the start and walked 3. Casey didn't fare much better, however, as he only lasted 3.2 IP. He gave up 4 runs (all earned), 4 walks, 1 HBP, and 6 hits. The Hoos did win the game 10 to 9.
Friday (Game 2) - UVA: LHP Daniel Lynch (2-3, 3.64 ERA, 47.0 IP, 12 walks, 58 strikeouts) vs VT: RHP Luke Scherzer (1-2, 7.36 ERA, 7.1 IP, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts)
In recent weeks, Daniel Lynch is doing everything he can to catch Derek Casey for the team lead in strikeouts. In his last three outings, Lynch has struck out 34. He set a career high of 11 against Boston College, proceeded to tie his career high of 11 against Miami in his next start, and then set a new career high of 12 against Pitt in his last start. During ACC play, Lynch is tied with Griffin Roberts of Wake Forest for the conference lead in strikeouts with 41. Roberts leads the conference overall and is tied for fourth nationally. During conference play, Lynch is also 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA.
Senior right hander Luke Scherzer will be making his fifth career start in Friday's second game. He has 52 career appearances in relief prior to this season. All five of his starts have been this year. Scherzer missed the last two years due to injury. He appears to still be working back from that injury while treating his starts as relief appearances at the beginning of games. Despite his five starts this season, he's only pitched 7.1 innings. His starts have gone 1.0 IP, 1.0 IP, 3.0 IP, and 2.1 IP. The Hokies lost Scherzer's last start 14 to 2 against NC State last weekend. Scherzer went 2.1 IP while giving up 4 runs (all earned), 3 hits, and 3 walks. He struck out 1 in that start.
In 2015, Scherzer picked up a save against UVA in a 3 to 1 Hokie win. He pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless baseball to earn the save. In 2014, he pitched 2.0 scoreless innings against UVA in a 7 to 4 UVA win.
Sunday - UVA: TBD vs VT: TBD
As of right now, neither team has announced a starter for Sunday's contest. For the Hoos, it will likely be either Bobby Nicholson or Grant Donahue. Nicholson pitched 5.0 innings on Tuesday against ODU. Donahue's last appearance was last Sunday against Pitt when he started and pitched 2.2 innings in place of a suspended Nicholson.
Freshman lefty Ian Seymour is usually VT's third weekend starter. My assumption is that he'll get the nod on Sunday as I don't see anything to indicate that he's injured. Seymour's Hokie career is off to a nice start. He's made 7 starts in 8 appearances and has a 2-1 record with a 3.19 ERA. In 42.1 innings pitched he's given up 15 walks and struck out 51. He's also given up 4 homers and hit 3. Opponents are batting only .207 against him. Last weekend against NC State, Seymour pitched 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball in a 1 to 0 Wolfpack win. He gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 7 in the start.
Weather Watch (Courtesy of Weather.com)
Friday - It should be a nice day at the ballpark for two. Chances of precipitation are at zero and temps should be in the lower 70s for game one. By the end of game two, it should still be in the lower 60s. I would expect for a breezy afternoon too. Hopefully the winds will be blowing out when the Hoos are at bat.
Sunday - Sunny and cold is on the menu for Sunday. It beats the rain, snow, mix mess that will invade Charlottesville on Saturday, however. Expect temps to be in the lower to mid 40s during the game. Winds should be negligible.
ACC Network Extra will provide live video streaming of each game in the series. That includes both games on Friday per VirginiaSports.com. Your favorite ESPN streaming platform carries ACC Network Extra.
Likewise, WINA.com is scheduled to provide audio streaming of each game in the series. VirginiaSports.com reports that WINA will pick up over the air coverage of Friday's action joined in progress at 6 PM. Sunday's entire game should be broadcast over the air by WINA as well.
Under first year head coach John Szefc, formerly of Maryland, the Hokies arrive at The Dish with a 12-15 record including 5-7 in ACC play. The Hoos are 16-13 overall but only 4-8 in conference. This will be an important series for both teams. The winner will receive bragging rights, a Commonwealth Clash point, and a boost to their conference record as both teams are currently on the ACC Tournament bubble. As a reminder, only the top 12 teams in the conference qualify for pool play with two teams staying home at the conclusion of the regular season.
With Maryland, Szefc found the former Davenport Field to be a house of horrors for his Terps. All Hoo fans know the history between Maryland and Virginia in NCAA Super Regional play. Against UVA, Szefc's career record is 3-6.
The Hoos have history on their side as well. UVA leads the all-time series against Virginia Tech 99-85. The Hoos are 56-30 at home against the Hokies in a series that dates back to 1900. In ACC home games, the UVA series lead really stands out at 16-2 including winning 8 in a row.
Last season, the Hoos took 2 of 3 in Blacksburg.
Now, throw all of that out the window. This is the first series between the teams since 2005 that UVA is not ranked. The Hoos 4-8 record in conference play is currently good for last in the Coastal Division. The Hoos had never lost an ACC series to Pitt before dropping last weekend's 2 games to 1. Going into the Miami series earlier this year, UVA owned an 8 series winning streak against the Hurricanes before being swept.
The glass half full version is that the Hoos are 1-0 in home ACC series this year, beating Boston College 2 to 1.
In this series, I'd give UVA a slight advantage in the pitching department. If Ian Seymour is unable to pitch this weekend for VT, that swings to a big advantage to UVA. Where the Hokies will have an edge is on offense. Anyone following UVA closely this season is well aware of their offensive woes. The Hokies have a pretty balanced offensive attack with five regulars batting above .300. The Hokies have seven hitters that have hit a homerun. Six of those seven have hit either 2 or 3 while their team leader has 5. UVA, by comparison, has only one active regular hitting above .300 in Andy Weber. The Hoos have six players that have hit a homerun this season but only three players with more than one. The team leader, Caleb Knight with 3, is a question mark to play due to an undisclosed illness. The Hokies have scored only 3 more runs on the season than the Hoos, however, 158 to 155.
This series most likely comes down to clutch hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and defense. I see a close series with the winner probably taking it 2 to 1. I don't see a Hokie sweep on the table but a VT win wouldn't surprise me either. That's thinking with my head. My heart, on the other hand, would never pick the Hokies in a million years and calls for a Wahoo sweep this weekend.
In the battle of head versus heart, head wins and so do the Hoos, 2 games to 1.