Cavs aim to extend winning streak
Freshmen-heavy roster does nothing to dampen Cavaliers' early season success
If this past weekend proved anything, it was that the No. 19 Virginia baseball team has started its season off on the right foot. For the players, though, their early season dominance is no surprise, and they are excited to keep their unbeaten streak alive Wednesday as they host George Washington at Davenport Field.
“We knew we had the talent,” said Nick Howard, sophomore pitcher and third baseman. “We just had to go out there and prove it. In the clubhouse, we all knew we had the talent to do this.”
The Cavaliers (7-0) have certainly proved their talent in the early goings of the season, thoroughly outperforming their competition both on the mound and at the plate. They have outscored their opponents 73-19 on the year, thanks in large part to a .323 team batting average and a starting pitching staff that has allowed just three earned runs and is currently working on a 29.1-inning shutout streak. The two sides of the Virginia success reinforce each other, and when they are both clicking, the team is unstoppable.
“When we know we have this kind of offense, it’s pretty easy to go out there and try and fill up the [strike] zone,” Howard said. “We know those bats are going to come alive sooner or later, so it definitely makes my job [as a pitcher] a little easier.”
Howard has done his part both on the hill and at the plate, going 1-0 without allowing an earned run in his two starts as a pitcher and batting .400 with six RBIs in five games at third base.
The Cavaliers’ pitching success is arguably the more surprising facet of the game, given the makeup of the roster. Three out of the four starters and five of the eight relievers Virginia has used so far this season are freshman, which has put a lot of pressure on starting catcher Nate Irving to call a good game each time out. The sophomore has started every game this season and the pitchers credit him with strong leadership behind the plate.
“He just guides the pitchers into that zone with what he preaches when he comes up to the mound,” Howard said. “You feel confident after talking with him.”
Irving, though young for a player being lauded by the pitchers as a critical voice of wisdom behind the plate, has a wealth of experience to offer from his own development last season.
“Nate Irving had a really good year for us last year, catching practically every game for us as a true freshman, and that experience that he had last year is certainly valuable to him this year and our ballclub,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “He knows what we want, he knows what the pitchers need to do to have success and he’s certainly doing a great job of leading our team from behind the plate. We don’t have a whole lot of options because a couple of the freshman catchers are dinged up and not able to catch, but when they get healthy, hopefully we’ll be able to spell him and not wear him down too much.”
Irving prides himself on developing a good relationship with his pitchers, and he believes his cohesion with them has allowed the young staff to perform beyond their years in the opening weeks of the season.
“I think we all get to know each other as a team,” Irving said. “I feel definitely that this team has come together really well, even more so than last year. We have a lot of guys who are around the same age group — a lot of sophomores, a lot of freshmen. I think we’re all in it for each other, and that’s been the biggest thing so far.”
The Cavaliers will have their next opportunity to perform when they take the field Wednesday afternoon against George Washington (0-5), an opponent they were supposed to face Tuesday before inclement weather forced the teams to delay their affair by a day. The Colonials come into the game on the opposite side of the spectrum of success relative to Virginia, having dropped their first five games of the season. They are coming out of a weekend road trip to South Carolina Upstate where they were outscored 17-4 during a three-game series. The team is batting just .185 on the season and will look to bounce back against Virginia’s freshman Trey Oest, making his second start of the year.
Oest dazzled spectators in last week’s win against St. Peter’s, allowing just one hit in six scoreless innings to pick up the win in his collegiate debut. The righty showed off his big-time stuff against an overmatched lineup, and his team is confident he can impress again.
“I’m just expecting Trey Oest to throw like he’s capable of,” Irving said. “If he throws like he’s capable of, then the results will take care of themselves.”
First pitch is set for 3 p.m.