Undefeated Virginia baseball team begins ACC play
Rising offensive dynamo Branden Cogswell sparks consistent play as Maryland matchup looms
After four wins in three days last weekend, the No. 19 Virginia baseball team is now preparing for the start of the ACC schedule against Maryland Friday with its undefeated record still intact.
The Cavaliers were originally supposed to play VMI Wednesday before turning their attention to the Maryland series, but the matchup was postponed indefinitely in response to forecasts calling for snow. Now, instead of playing a fifth game in the week leading up to facing Maryland, Virginia will begin the perennially difficult slate of conference play fresh and energized.
“It’s a dogfight every weekend in this league,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “It’s one of the top leagues for college baseball year in and year out, and this year’s no different.”
The Cavaliers (12-0) will play host to the Terrapins (9-3), who have struggled so far this season on the road despite their winning record. All of the Terps’ losses have come away from College Park, where they are a perfect 8-0. Last season, the Cavaliers went on the road and took two out of three from the Terps.
Virginia enters conference play undefeated for the first time since 2009, the year the Cavaliers went on to earn the program’s first College World Series appearance. The Cavaliers owe their sizzling start to a young pitching staff that has exceeded early expectations and a lineup that has lived up to its sizable potential. The Cavaliers’ all-around dominance has resulted in a total scoring margin of 119-29, making Virginia the conference leader in total runs scored and third in runs allowed.
“What I’ve been very proud of in our guys is, when you play a 12-game span, you always have some lapses — maybe a starter goes out there and gives up five or six runs, or you’re not ready to play defensively, or offensively you don’t show up,” O’Connor said. “Remember, they’re still 18- to 20-year-old players, and I’ve just been really happy with what I’ve seen on a day-in and day-out basis so far with the club, and that’s been very encouraging.”
With so much success, pinpointing a single catalyst could be a difficult task. But at least offensively, there is little question the production starts at the top of the order with Branden Cogswell. The sophomore short stop has blossomed in the critical leadoff role, leading the ACC with a .618 on-base percentage and scoring a run in every game this season.
“We experimented with some different players in that leadoff spot throughout the fall,” O’Connor said. “As he started to settle in, Cogswell was very consistent. He can also run, and you want that at the top of the lineup if you’ve got that kind of player. He understands the game, he’s a very heady player, and he’s doing a great job.”
Cogswell made 27 starts in 2012, but just one at his current position while stuck behind Chris Taylor, Virginia’s primary leadoff man and short stop last season. With a season under his belt, Cogswell has raised his on-base percentage nearly 200 points and his slugging percentage by almost 300 points. Cogswell is on pace to eclipse his 28 runs scored last season by the end of this week, and he has already surpassed his two stolen bases a year ago by going six-for-six so far.
“This season has been different for me,” Cogswell said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive, and stay within myself. Ultimately, as a leadoff guy, I’m just trying to get on base and let the team do what we do, and I’ll move around and we’ll end up scoring. If I can ever get on base, whether leading off an inning or not, I’m confident we can get that run across.”
Though Cogswell’s torrid pace will likely be slowed down eventually, promising signs abound below him in the lineup. Perhaps the most encouraging development from last weekend’s demolition of Harvard and Bucknell was the awakening of two-hole hitter Jared King from a 1-for-25 slump that spanned seven games. After going hitless Friday and sitting out the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the redshirt senior first baseman broke out in the final two games, going four-for-seven with three RBIs and three walks. With the slump-busting performances, it appears King is now settling into his role batting second this season after hitting in the middle of the lineup in the past — a switch prompted by the emergence of the team’s sophomore class, which now dominates the middle of the order.
“I think the most important thing is staying consistent with what you’re trying to do,” King said. “Baseball’s a game where you’re going to have streaks, and you’re also going to have slumps. Just sticking to your approach and just kind of grinding out at-bats every day, and eventually, those balls that are getting caught are going to fall.”
This weekend, Virginia will hope those breaks continue to go their way as they seek to extend their perfect start to the season.