Weekend Preview: Start of ACC Play Highlighted By Virginia Taking on North Carolina

SEE ALSO: Missouri Valley Matchup

Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said before the season that he was excited about the Cavaliers’ returning positional depth—a lineup anchored by Preseason All-American juniors Pavin Smith, Adam Haseley and Ernie Clement.

(1) Texas Christian at UC Irvine
Boston College at (2) Florida State
Seton Hall at (3) Florida
Pittsburgh at (4) Louisville
Ball State at (5) Oregon State
Wichita State at (6) Louisiana State
Gonzaga at (7) Cal State Fullerton
Charlotte at (8) East Carolina
Notre Dame at (9) Clemson
Michigan State at (10) South Carolina
Hartford at (11) Arizona
Indiana State at (12) Washington
(13) Virginia at (17) North Carolina
Texas-San Antonio at (14) Texas Tech
St. Peter’s at (15) Louisiana-Lafayette
(16) Stanford at Rice
Illinois at (18) Coastal Carolina
(19) Georgia Tech at Miami
(20) North Carolina State at Wake Forest
Furman at (21) Mississippi
(22) St. John’s at Liberty
South Dakota State at (23) Oklahoma State
Houston at (24) Baylor
Brown at (25) Texas A&M

So far this season, that position-player group has performed exceptionally well, scoring 10.2 runs per game through the first 13 games of the season. This weekend, though, they’ll face their toughest challenge of the year. Friday marks the start of Atlantic Coast Conference play, and the No. 13 Cavaliers will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., for their first road series of the year against No. 17 North Carolina. Though the Tar Heels are coming off of a series loss to Long Beach State last weekend, they boast one of the most talented pitching staffs in the country, led by junior righthander J.B. Bukauskas (1-0, 0.45, 30 strikeouts in 20 innings), whose mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider place him near the top of many draft boards. “Certainly, North Carolina’s got some high-level arms,” O’Connor said. “I’m excited first and foremost to get ACC play under way, but I’m also excited to see our guys go on the road against a great opponent and see how we handle that certainly from an offensive standpoint, but it’s gonna be a lot to do with how we handle it on the mound, as well. When you’re facing the kind of arms that North Carolina has and the depth that they have, we’ve got to hold our own from a pitching standpoint.” Offensively, the trio of Haseley (.404/.492/.769, five home runs), Smith (.353/.417/.608, four homers) and Clement (.339/.348/.403) have held up their end of the bargain. And the return of speedy outfielder Jake McCarthy (.377/.507/.566, 11 steals in 11 attempts), who missed the majority of last season due to injury, has only lengthened that lineup. Haseley, in particular, is hitting the ball with more authority, nearly matching his home run total (six) from all of last year. “There’s been tremendous growth (in Haseley) certainly now being a junior and being in the lineup every day and everything that goes along with that,” O’Connor said. “I just think that now he’s hitting in the middle of the order, he’s a stronger, more physical, more developed player offensively, and certainly it makes a difference for us.” Haseley is also a key contributor on the mound, where he’s 2-0, 2.65 and the most experienced member of an unproven rotation. Sophomore lefthander Daniel Lynch (3-0, 3.06), who starts Fridays for Virginia, has shown improved stuff but needs to cut down on his walks, with 10 in 17.2 innings. While redshirt freshman righthander Evan Sperling (3-0, 2.84) has the least experience on staff, he has the best pure stuff and projects as Virginia’s ace of the future. Those three will have to contend with Tar Heel veterans such as junior shortstop Logan Warmoth (.367/.429/.592), the team’s leading hitter and a rising prospect, and junior center fielder Brian Miller (.291/.350/.436). The rest of the UNC rotation is formidable behind Bukauskas, as well, with polished freshman righthander Luca Dalatri putting up a 15-strikeout performance two weekends ago and junior righthander Jason Morgan pitching to a 2-0, 2.87 record through his first three starts. While the Virginia-UNC series is the only Top 25 matchup in the country, it is far from the only enticing ACC matchup. In Winston-Salem, N.C., a 10-4 Wake Forest team will host a No. 20 North Carolina State team that has lost four of its last six games. The results of that series could cause a shift in the Top 25. Elsewhere, Miami will host No. 19 Georgia Tech—a difficult draw for a Hurricanes team that has started the year 4-8 and has lost three straight games. Coming off of back-to-back College World Series trips, Miami has lost many of the pieces that fueled those Omaha runs, including catcher Zack Collins, shortstop Brandon Lopez and outfielder Willie Abreu. With that turnover, the young Hurricanes offense is batting .172/.273/.237 through the season’s first 12 games. “Whatever can happen has happened so far,” head coach Jim Morris said. “Between losing some players and guys coming in and not stepping it up and injuries—the combination of all three. And nothing’s really worked up to this point. We’re still searching for an identity as a team, but we’re playing hard. We’re just not scoring any runs at all.” A positive for Miami has been its pitching staff, which experienced far less turnover than the offense and has collectively posted a 3.87 ERA. Junior rigthander Jesse Lepore, in particular, has been nearly untouchable on Friday nights, pitching to a 0.90 ERA. “Well, he pitched good last year (in midweek games),” Morris said. “He’s definitely stepped it up. Pitching on Friday nights is a lot tougher than pitching on Wednesday, and he’s done an outstanding job every time out. It’s all been a lot of low-scoring games.” Traveling to Miami should also be a challenge for the Yellow Jackets, who have yet to venture out of the state of Georgia. Powered by sophomore catcher Joey Bart (.447/.500/.957, seven home runs) and junior outfielder Kel Johnson (.348/.365/.783, six homers), the Yellow Jackets have scored 9.5 runs per game, but they haven’t faced a pitching staff of Miami’s caliber. That series, as well as the other ACC series around the east coast, could help bring some clarity to the conference picture.

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone