No. 8 baseball seeks to end skid against Old Dominion
Cavaliers return to Davenport, host Monarchs Wednesday
The No. 8 Virginia baseball team entered last Wednesday with a 30-3 record, overpowering its competition and tearing through the ACC. One week later, the Cavaliers have doubled that loss total, dropping three of their last four games against Radford and No. 15 Georgia Tech. Wednesday, they look to right the ship against Old Dominion at Davenport Field.
“The last week was a bit of a challenging week for us,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “This is the first point in this season — and we’ve played a lot of baseball already — where we’re really dealing with some true adversity from a win-loss standpoint, so I’m excited for our club to get back out here against Old Dominion.”
Barring a 7-2 win Saturday, the Virginia (31-6, 13-5 ACC) bats struggled against a strong Yellow Jacket pitching staff, scoring just three runs in the two other games. Georgia Tech senior Buck Farmer pitched a one-run, 10-strikeout complete game Friday — a performance that earned him ACC Pitcher of the Week honors — and sophomore Cole Pitts gave up two runs in 5.1 innings of Sunday’s rain-shortened game. Virginia has excelled all season at scoring late in games, which made Sunday’s loss particularly frustrating for the players, who felt they might have been able to break through.
“Any time where you don’t get to play all nine, you’re always going to wonder ‘What if?’” redshirt senior first baseman Jared King said. “That being said, they had the same opportunity that we did those first six innings. Obviously we would have loved to play them all, but that’s the way it ended.”
The lone win of the weekend for Virginia came from redshirt senior Scott Silverstein, who struck out nine batters in seven innings Saturday to take the win. After an injury-filled career for the Cavaliers, Silverstein has been steadfast this season, going 6-0 with a 3.42 ERA in nine starts. Silverstein came into the season with just 16 career starts to his name, but he has quickly become the team’s most consistent starter.
“I couldn’t be happier for a guy,” King said. “The best thing I see in him is that he’s up there competing. For the longest time … you could just tell he was thinking about his arm action and his velocity, but now he’s just out there competing and it shows with the confidence he has on the mound.”
Silverstein is joined in his late-career success by senior second baseman Reed Gragnani, who has also struggled with injuries throughout his career. He started a career-high 41 games in 2011, but he is on track to break that this year, starting in 35 of the team’s 37 games so far. Gragnani hit his first career home run last weekend against Wake Forest, and then wasted little time adding to his tally, belting his second shot against Georgia Tech.
“He’s not really a home run guy, but he obviously has that power when he catches one,” King said. “Those guys at the bottom of the lineup have done a great job this year of turning the lineup over and giving guys like [sophomore shortstop Branden] Cogswell and myself opportunities to get RBIs. They’re going to have to keep doing it the rest of the year.”
Wednesday, Virginia takes on the Monarchs, looking to erase the memory of its first midweek loss last week against Radford. Junior Artie Lewicki started for the Cavaliers in his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery, but struggled mightily, giving up three runs in just one inning of work. Normal midweek starter Trey Oest relieved him, but that did not do much to stop the Highlander deluge, as the freshman gave up six earned runs in just two thirds of an inning, leaving this Wednesday’s start in question.
“I’m not quite sure what the plan is for Artie Lewicki,” O’Connor said. “If he’s feeling good and feeling up for it, he’ll pitch again on Wednesday. I don’t know whether he’ll start or not. When you’re recovering from surgery … the first 48 leading up to the next time he pitches really tell us a lot, so we’ll know a lot more by the end of practice [Tuesday].”
Old Dominion enters Wednesday’s matchup having dropped two of three games this past weekend at Hofstra. The Monarchs (18-16, 8-10 CAA) currently boast a winning record, but are just 6-8 on the road, and their only action against ACC competition resulted in a 5-0 loss to No. 16 NC State. Offensively, Old Dominion is led by junior first baseman Ben Verlander — brother of Detroit Tiger ace Justin Verlander — who sports a .375 batting average to complement his 10 home runs and 27 RBIs this season.
Wednesday’s game is the first in a six-game home stand for Virginia, and the Cavaliers hope their return to Davenport will bring with it the confidence they need to get past its recent struggles.
“It’s always great to play at home,” King said. “Obviously this month, with three out of the four [weekend series] being on the road, it’s going to be a great test, but any time we can come back home and have the comforts of this home field advantage, it’s going to be really big for us.”