Virginia Stands Alone As College Baseball’s Last Undefeated Team

Image credit: NWL top prospect Kyle Teel (Photo courtesy of Virginia)

Friday began with three undefeated teams remaining in Division I college baseball: Alabama, North Carolina State and Virginia. By the end of the night, the Cavaliers stood alone as the last remaining unbeaten.

Virginia wasted little time asserting itself Friday night in its ACC opener at North Carolina. The Cavaliers took the lead in the first inning when Griff O’Ferrall led off the game with a single and came around to score two batters later, driven in by Jake Gelof. They built on the advantage with five runs in the second, knocking out UNC starter Max Carlson, and never looked back en route to a 7-3 victory at Boshamer Stadium.

Meanwhile, NC State found itself in a deep, early hole in its ACC opener at Miami. The Hurricanes scored eight runs in the second, taking advantage of two home runs and two errors. The Wolfpack fought back to tie the game in the seventh, only to see Miami DH Ian Farrow lead off the bottom of the inning with his second home run of the game. It proved to be the difference, as the Hurricanes held on for a 9-8 win.

Alabama, the only member of the undefeated trio to play at home Friday, also found itself in an early hole against Columbia. The Lions scored twice in the second to take the lead and were up seven runs at the stretch. The Crimson Tide fought back in the late innings and brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth inning, but Columbia held on for a 10-7 victory.

Virginia is now the final undefeated team left in the country and is 13-0 for the fourth time in program history. It will look to extend its winning streak to start the season Saturday when it faces UNC in a doubleheader, as a poor forecast for Sunday led the teams to move the series finale up a day.

“I thought we played really well in a lot of facets of the game,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “North Carolina’s got a great ballclub. It’s going to be a fun day of baseball (Saturday). We’re going to need to come out and play as crisp as we did today to have a chance to win another game.”

The Cavaliers have gotten to this point with an impressive offensive performance. They’re averaging 11.3 runs per game and hitting .363/.453/.562 as a team. While they have scored runs in bunches this season—only twice have they been held to less than seven runs—they aren’t dependent on the long ball to do it. In a year when balls are flying out of ballparks around the country, Virginia’s 17 home runs as a team rank outside the top 50 nationally.

Virginia’s stars have come to play to start the season. First-team Preseason All-American Kyle Teel is hitting .542/.621/.771 with two home runs. Jake Gelof, a potential first-round pick, is hitting .385/.435/.808 with five home runs. Ethan Anderson (.418/.484/.655, 7 2B) is also off to a sizzling start.

But Virginia standing out offensively isn’t much of a surprise. The Cavaliers last year averaged 8.6 runs per game (13th nationally) and returned six regulars from that team.

Perhaps the bigger deal is how well Virginia has pitched so far this season. The Cavaliers lost much of last season’s pitching staff and had to completely rebuild the rotation. So far, so good. They entered the weekend ranked fifth in the nation in team ERA (2.29) and are averaging 11.58 strikeouts per nine innings.

Righthander Jake Berry, one of Virginia’s few key returners on the mound, has taken to a bullpen ace role. He threw three innings Friday to earn his second save of the season, holding UNC to one run (unearned) on three hits and no walks. He has yet to allow an earned run in 13.2 innings this season. 

“I felt like it was going to be important with a young, new pitching staff to have a couple of guys at the back part of the game that had experience, that could get outs, especially on the road, in this league,” O’Connor said. “Jake Berry has more experience than anybody in our uniform on the pitching mound. To give him the ball at the end of the game for the final three innings to win a game one on the road in this league is the way you kind of drew it up. He’s been terrific in that role.”

Virginia has also found a reliable quartet of starters in Connelly Early (3-0, 2.16), Brian Edgington (3-0, 1.76), Jack O’Connor (1-0, 1.72) and Nick Parker (2-0, 4.58). The Cavaliers are starting to build a solid bullpen behind them, led by Berry (0-0, 0.00, 2 SV), Angelo Tonas (2-0, 3.38) and Jay Woolfolk (1-0, 1.35, 1 SV).

Less than a month into the season, Virginia’s schedule doesn’t particularly stand out one way or the other as easy or challenging. For a major conference team, it’s about what you’d expect. It’s played just two true road games (at UNC and UNC Wilmington) and a third neutral site game (against Ohio). Only three of its opponents have winning records (UNC, UNCW and Virginia Military Institute). But it did sweep Columbia, the reigning Ivy League Tournament champion, and now claims a road win against UNC. UNCW and William & Mary, which Virginia has beaten once each, are annually solid programs.

There can be no question that the schedule starts to stiffen this weekend with ACC play. Virginia has two more games at UNC and then is back in the Research Triangle next weekend to take on NC State. Series against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Miami follow.

So, how much longer can the Cavaliers keep a zero in the loss column? Last year, Virginia was 13-0 at the same point of the calendar. It pushed its streak to 14 before losing to Duke in the nightcap of a doubleheader. As the Cavaliers saw a year ago, sweeping a conference doubleheader on the road is no easy task, so asking them to push their current winning streak much past where it is now is a tall order.

But no matter how long Virginia stays undefeated, its start to the season has been impressive. If its new-look pitching staff can continue to build on its early momentum, the Cavaliers look like a team that will be able to compete with the best teams in the ACC and beyond.

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