The 2019 baseball schedule dropped yesterday afternoon while the team was in the middle of its final fall scrimmage against the Ontario Blue Jays. Having had a little time to digest it, I'm ready to dive in. You can view the complete schedule in the link in the opening sentence. I'm going to break down the schedule by segments: opening event, Power 5-Ish non conference games, non Power 5 non conference games, ACC home series, and ACC road series.
Opening Event - MLB Collegiate Tournament
- Vanderbilt (February 15)
- TCU (February 16)
- Fullerton (February 17)
Originally planned to take place in Puerto Rico, this showcase event will be held at the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies in Talking Stick, Arizona. Each team in the four team event will play three games in round robin format. The participants are UVA, Vanderbilt, Fullerton, and TCU. These programs are no stranger to College World Series appearances. Fullerton and TCU most recently made the trip to Omaha in 2017. Vanderbilt and UVA's most recent trip was in 2015.
The Hoos have recent history with all of these programs as well. Opening the season with Vanderbilt will bring back memories of the 2014 and 2015 CWS Finals. Vanderbilt also won the 2004 Charlottesville Regional as the 2 seed beating top seeded UVA in the regional final. During the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Vandy won the Clemson Regional as the regional 2 seed before losing at home to Mississippi State in the Super Regional round.
Virginia and TCU most recently played in the 2017 Fort Worth Regional with TCU winning 5 to 1 in the winners' bracket game. Going back a little further, the Hoos defeated TCU in a winners' bracket of pool play in the 2014 College World Series 3 to 2 in 15 innings. Like the Hoos, TCU missed the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The Hoos and Titans have also faced off in NCAA Tournament and College World Series play. Most recently, UVA eliminated national 2 seed Fullerton in the losers' bracket of pool play in the 2009 College World Series 7 to 5 during UVA's first ever College World Series appearance. Before that, Fullerton defeated UVA in the 2008 Fullerton Regional in a losers' bracket elimination game 4 to 1. Fullerton was the regional top seed while the Hoos were the 3 seed in Fullerton. The Titans were the national 5 seed in 2008 but were eliminated in Super Regional play by Stanford.
Do not be surprised if this event is televised live by the MLB Network.
Power 5-Ish Non Conference
- Villanova (February 22, 23, 24)
- Seton Hall (March 1, 2, 3)
- Connecticut (March 20)
To put it kindly, Villanova was not good last year. They brought up the rear in the Big East finishing 1-17 in conference play. Overall, the Wildcats finished 9-39. Their lone conference win came in extra innings against Xavier in the next to last game of the season. Oddly enough, Nova did manage to go 6-14 on the road last year despite their terrible overall season. Unless a miracle happened in Philly, this series will do no favors to the Hoos' RPI.
Seton Hall, on the other hand, had a respectable 2018 season. The Pirates finished second in the Big East with a 13-4 conference record while going 30-20-1 overall. They ended up on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble after falling in the conference final to league regular season champion St. John's. Over the course of their 2018 season, Seton Hall picked up a couple wins against ACC competition with a win each against NC State and Pitt.
The single game against UConn is the rare mid week Power 5-Ish non conference game nestled in the schedule during conference play. The Huskies were a NCAA Tournament team last year serving as the 2 seed in the Conway, SC Regional hosted by Coastal Carolina. They reached the regional final before losing to College World Series bound Washington. UConn finished 37-22-1 overall last year and 14-10 in the American Conference. They reached the conference tourney title game where they lost to East Carolina.
This is a decent slate of games especially considering the elite teams on the schedule to open the season. The mid week game against UConn was a nice surprise as both they and Seton Hall should be good challenges for UVA. Splitting hairs here but maybe you'd upgrade the Villanova series with a slightly stronger Power 5 team like Maryland. The Terps probably would have wanted a return trip from the Hoos next season and UVA may not have been offering that.
Non Power 5 Non Conference
- VMI (February 20)
- William & Mary (February 26)
- Wagner (March 5, 6)
- Liberty (March 13, April 23)
- Longwood (March 26)
- Richmond (March 27)
- Old Dominion (April 2)
- James Madison (April 9, April 24)
- Norfolk State (April 10)
- Radford (April 16)
- VCU (April 30, May 14)
As usual, the Hoos load up with in state, non conference teams.
The lone exception in this segment of the schedule are the Wagner Seahawks from Staten Island, NY of the NEC. The Seahawks shared the NEC regular season crown with Bryant as both teams posted 21-7 conference records. Wagner lost in the NEC Tournament championship to LIU-Brooklyn and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. They finished 2018 with a 38-18 record. They went 0-1 against ACC competition with a loss to Virginia Tech in Deland, Florida. They did, however, go 1-0 versus Seton Hall and 4-0 against Villanova. The two games against Wagner come right before the ACC opener versus Duke. The teams last met in 2016 as the Hoos took both games against the Seahawks. I'd expect a nice little challenge as the Hoos gear up for league play.
The in state foes provide a nice mix of challenges and games where the entire roster can earn time in the field, on the mound, or at the plate. All of these teams will come to Charlottesville intent on knocking off UVA and beating the Hoos is no stranger for a lot of them. While these teams aren't always the strongest overall, they will make UVA play with the type of intensity required in ACC play in order to prevent being embarrassed on the field and on the scoreboard.
This will be especially true for the home opener against VMI. Last season, the Hoos returned from their opening event in Orlando, Florida and promptly lost the home opener 9 to 4 against the Keydets before rebounding a week later with a 10 to 9 win against VMI.
When the Hoos host Norfolk State it will mark the first time the schools have played since 2009 according to my research. It's nice to see the Spartans appear on the schedule again.
Also included in the mix is the annual trip to play VCU at The Diamond in Richmond (April 30).
ACC Home Series
- Duke (March 8-10)
- Pittsburgh (March 22-24)
- Miami (April 12-14)
- Florida State (April 18-20)
- Louisville (May 10-12)
While not filled with traditional rivals, the ACC home slate offers a nice mix of top programs (FSU, Louisville), a rebuilding power (Miami), a program possibly ready to make a jump to league contender status (Duke), and a program that should allow the Hoos to add some always needed conference wins (Pitt). Duke made it to the Super Regional round last season before falling to Texas Tech with a CWS berth on the line. And both FSU and Louisville made NCAA Tournament appearances with FSU winning the ACC Tournament and earning the number 7 overall national seed.
ACC Road Series
- Georgia Tech (March 15-17)
- NC State (March 29-31)
- Notre Dame (April 5-7)
- North Carolina (April 26-28)
- Virginia Tech (May 16-18)
On paper, the ACC road schedule doesn't look too bad. Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech are three programs that UVA should have success against on the road. I'll be honest though in that I don't really like concluding the season in Blacksburg. Their stadium is a bit of a launching bad with a historically difficult infield to field the ball. The Hokies will also be sky high for this series. None of these teams made the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
NC State and UNC will represent big road challenges but only two really challenging road series isn't too bad given the strength of ACC baseball.
After some down years, the 2018 Tar Heels appeared to get their program back to its typical place in the college baseball world. The Heels were the number 6 overall national seed and advanced to the College World Series where they took a game from national champion Oregon State before later being eliminated by the Beavers.
NC State was also a national seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, earning the 16th seed. They hosted the Raleigh Regional before losing their opener to Army and then being eliminated by regional champion Auburn. The Wolfpack always seem on the verge of breaking through but can never quite get over the hump. UVA did win its only matchup with NC State last season, 4 to 2, to close out pool play in the ACC Tournament for both teams.
The opening weekend is a great opportunity for UVA Baseball and its fans. To be picked for the event shows the reputation the program has nationally. Of course, that reputation is well deserved but there are plenty of elite programs that could have credibly filled a spot in the event that were note selected. I'm hopeful that MLB Network will broadcast the games as they have for similar college baseball events in the past.
The non conference schedule appears to be more challenging to me than it was in 2017. If my thoughts are correct, that probably reflects the opinion that Coach O'Connor believes that the 2018 team will be up for a difficult schedule. For fans of UVA Baseball, that indicates that we can expect a pretty good team this spring and summer.