Mother Nature intervened to cancel UVA's trip to Norfolk to play Old Dominion this week. So, the Hoos return to the diamond this weekend on the heels of the dramatic series win at Louisville. The Hoos will be hosting the nationally ranked Clemson Tigers. The win over Louisville opened the door slightly for Virginia's NCAA Tournament chances. If they want to kick that door open, taking the series against Clemson will be just what the doctor ordered.
Virginia: 24-17 (Overall), 9-12 (ACC)
Clemson: 31-11 (Overall), 14-7 (ACC)
Friday - 6 PM
Saturday - 4 PM
Sunday - 1 PM
The postseason is creeping ever closer, so here's our weekly look at things across the ACC. The top 12 teams at the conclusion of the regular season advance to pool play in the ACC Tournament.
Other ACC series this weekend include:
Boston College at Notre Dame
Duke at Virginia Tech
Miami at Florida State
North Carolina at NC State
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
Indiana State at Louisville
LIU Brooklyn at Pittsburgh
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday - UVA: RHP Derek Casey (5-2, 3.15 ERA, 68.2 IP, 15 walks, 82 strikeouts) vs Clemson: LHP Jacob Hennessy (3-2, 3.25 ERA, 55.1 IP, 14 walks, 43 strikeouts)
Casey gave the Hoos another nice start last week against the Cardinals. And while it wasn't enough for UVA to get the win, Casey did leave the game with UVA holding a 4 to 3 lead over Louisville. The Cards would ultimately come back to win 5 to 4. Casey lasted 6.2 innings against Louisville. He gave up 6 hits, 3 runs (earned), walked 2, and struck out 8. He also threw 1 wild pitch. Casey's 8 strikeouts on the day were enough to wrestle the team lead back from Daniel Lynch. Casey has fallen out of the top twenty nationally but he's still second in the ACC ahead of Miami's Evan McKendry who now has 80 Ks on the season.
All expectations against Clemson should be for Casey to pitch deep into the game while keeping the Hoos alive for a series opening win.
The Tigers will counter with sophomore left hander Jacob Hennessy. Hennessy was used exclusively as a relief pitcher during his freshman season making 26 appearances. This season, however, Hennessy has started in each of his 10 appearances. He's started every weekend series opener for the Tigers this year.
Last week against Wake Forest, the Tigers won the game 7 to 5 but Hennessy had a rough start. He lasted only 2.0 innings against the Deacs. In those two innings, Hennessy gave up 5 hits, 5 runs (4 earned), 1 walk, and 1 strikeout. The start against Wake continued a pattern of less than ideal starts in ACC contests recently for Hennessy. The previous weekend against Miami, he gave up 3 runs (earned) in 5.0 innings in a 12 to 11 loss. The week before that saw Hennessy give up 4 runs (earned) in 6.2 innings in a 5 to 2 loss to Notre Dame. You have to go back to Hennessy's last start in March against Boston College to find a superior performance in an ACC series opener.
During his freshman season, Hennessy pitched 0.2 innings against UVA in the three game series at Clemson. Clemson won the series 2 games to 1, but Hennessy's results were mixed. In a series opening 2 to 0 UVA win, Hennessy pitched the last out of the game. In the next game, won by Clemson 7 to 6, Hennessy again recorded 1 out. However, during that 0.1 IP, he gave up 3 hits and 3 runs (earned). He also walked 1 and struck out 1 for his only out recorded. UVA's runs scored against Hennessy came off the bats of Andy Weber and Nate Eikhoff.
Saturday - UVA: LHP Daniel Lynch (3-3, 3.99 ERA, 67.2 IP, 16 walks, 79 strikeouts) vs Clemson: RHP Brooks Crawford (4-2, 3.54 ERA, 48.1 IP, 12 walks, 29 strikeouts)
Lynch's ability to steady the ship after a tough first inning against Louisville was key to Virginia's 5 to 4 win last Saturday. Lynch gave up 2 runs in the first, and another 2 in the third, but the Cards would not score the rest of the game. Lynch ended up pitching 7.0 innings before handing things over to Bennett Sousa for a six out save. In his 7 innings, Lynch gave up 9 hits, 4 runs (2 earned), 2 walks, and struck out 4.
Lynch's 4 strikeouts allowed Derek Casey to retake the team lead in Ks despite a recent charge up the ladder by Lynch. What is remarkable is how similar the two pitchers stats are this far into the season. Their consistency, although Lynch has more highs and lows than Casey, has allowed UVA to stay within shouting distance of NCAA Tournament play.
Junior right hander Brooks Crawford will be Lynch's opposition on Saturday. Crawford's first two seasons at Clemson were mostly as a long reliever although he missed extended time in 2017 due to an illness. This season, like Jacob Hennessy, all 10 of Crawford's appearances are as a starting pitcher. Like Hennessy with weekend series openers, Crawford has started the second game of every weekend series to date. During the first half of the season it was not uncommon to see Crawford pitch only 4 to 5 innings. That makes sense given his history as a reliever and his bout with an illness last season. More recently, Crawford has been pitching deeper into the game. Last weekend against Wake Forest and three weeks ago against Notre Dame, Crawford gave the Tigers 7 innings of work.
His last start against Wake was unspectacular but solid. In those aforementioned 7 innings, Crawford gave up 5 hits, 3 runs (earned), walked none, and struck out 5 in Clemson's 4 to 3 win. Crawford did struggle in the prior outing against Miami and earlier this season against Louisville.
Last season, Crawford pitched 0.1 innings against UVA in the Hoos' 2 to 0 series opening victory. In that 0.1 IP, he gave up 1 hit as well. That represents Crawford's only career action against UVA.
Sunday - UVA: RHP Noah Murdock (1-0, 3.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 1 walk, 1 strikeout) vs Clemson: LHP Jake Higginbotham (6-1, 3.44 ERA, 52.1 IP, 15 walks, 40 strikeouts)
The Hoos have abandoned their TBD approach to the Sunday gig and announced sophomore Noah Murdock as the starter last week. Murdock, in his second appearance back from last season's elbow injury, got the start last week at Louisville. Still building back arm strength, Murdock was able to give the Hoos 2 innings against Louisville after pitching only an inning in his season debut earlier against Radford. An All ACC Freshman team member last year, Murdock is a high potential pitcher who will likely be the Hoos' staff ace next season. This year, as he works back from injury, Murdock is poised to give the pitching staff a boost after the Sunday starter role was put in flux by Evan Sperling's midseason injury. Murdock will most likely be limited by a pitch count cap again this week, but if he can increase his workload from 2 innings to 3 or 4, it would be a huge benefit to the team. Clemson looks to be the biggest test to date for Murdock, however.
Starting for Clemson will be redshirt sophomore lefty Jake Higginbotham. He was a high school All-American prior to enrolling at Clemson but sustained an arm injury his freshman season. He made eight appearances (seven starts) before the arm injury in April ended his freshman campaign. The injury cost Higginbotham all of last season as well. He's bounced back well this year, however, picking up 6 wins in 10 starts. Like both Hennessy and Crawford, Higginbotham has started in each of his appearances on the year. Like his other fellow weekend starters, Higginbotham has been in the same weekend rotation spot for the entire season.
Last week in the series finale against Wake, Higginbotham pitched 5 innings of shutout baseball in Clemson's 9 to 4 win. He gave up 4 hits, walked 1, and struck out 3 before turning things over to the bullpen. His prior start against Miami was nice as well as he pitched 7.1 innings. During that start, he surrendered 4 hits, 2 runs (earned), walked 5, and struck out 7. Clemson took the game 8 to 3. Earlier in the season, both Boston College and Louisville were able to have a great deal of success against him.
This will be Higginbotham's first career appearance versus UVA.
Weather Watch (Courtesy of Weather.com)
Friday's game will see partly to mostly cloudy skies with a varying chance of rain. The chance of precipitation should range between 10 and 20 percent throughout the evening. Temperatures should be in the mid to lower 60s throughout the game. Winds will be calm and hardly noticeable.
The wind and temperatures will pick up slightly for Saturday's contest. Winds should top out around 10 mph during the game. Temps will be in the lower 70s at first pitch and remain there most of the game, falling only to the upper 60s. There appears to be a 15% chance of rain during the first third to half of the game, but it drops quickly after that. Skies will still be partly to mostly cloudy.
Sunday will feature clear skies and temps in the upper 50s to lower 60s. There's also no chance of rain on Sunday. Winds will be slightly stronger but the difference between Saturday and Sunday will be negligible.
Like most games this season, ACC Network Extra is providing live video streaming of all three games. As always, look to your ESPN streaming platform of choice to catch the action.
WINA.com will feature audio streaming of all three games as well. And WINA will broadcast the game over the air in the Charlottesville area both Friday and Saturday.
Under Brian O'Connor, UVA has owned the series against Clemson. Since Coach O'Connor took over, UVA is 27-9 against the Tigers including 13-2 in Charlottesville since 2004. Last season, the Hoos and Tigers split the season series at two games each. Clemson won the regular season series 2 to 1 while UVA won the matchup in the ACC Tournament.
The Tigers will arrive in town with a five game winning streak. Their three game sweep of Wake Forest last weekend was the first home series loss for the Deacons since 2016. UVA enters the series having won four of their last five games and two of their last three ACC series.
Containing Clemson's offense will be key in this series. They don't have a regular batting above .300 but their 61 homers are good for fifth in the country. They're also seventh in the country with 235 walks. Junior Seth Beer, a two time All-American, is Clemson's most recognized player. His 11 homers are tied for the team lead with equally dangerous senior first baseman Chris Williams. Williams also leads the Tigers in RBI with 43 while Beer is actually third on the team with 31. Senior outfielder Drew Wharton is second on the team with 32.
If trends continue, UVA's bats should be good enough as long as the temperatures are seasonable. Clemson's pitching staff appears to be a notch below both Louisville's and UNC's too.
I'm fairly confident of UVA's chances Friday night. Saturday will probably come down to which versions of Daniel Lynch and Brooks Crawford appears. The Hoos will have their work cut out for them on Sunday but a combination of Noah Murdock and a well-rested Bobby Nicholson, if on his game, will give the Hoos a puncher's chance.
UVA is desperate for a signature win and continued momentum in its quest to extend its NCAA Tournament consecutive appearances streak. On paper, Clemson should take the series but that's why we play the games. Somehow, someway the Hoos get this one done. UVA takes it 2 to 1.