Top-ranked Virginia prepares to face Pirates
Team enters series on three game streak after season-opening loss
No. 1 Virginia baseball faces off against East Carolina this weekend, seeking to win its home opener for the eighth season in a row. The team downed William & Mary 17-2 Wednesday afternoon, in a game originally scheduled for Charlottesville but moved to Williamsburg due to the recent snowfall affecting field conditions.
The Cavaliers (2-1) will look to build on the success they achieved in last weekend’s Hughes Bros. Challenge in Wilmington, N.C. and against the Tribe Wednesday when the team hosts the Pirates (2-1) for their first three-game series of the season.
Last season, Virginia compiled a 35-5 record within the confines of Davenport Field, and hopes to not only protect its home turf but also the first No. 1 preseason ranking in program history. Despite dropping the opening game of the season against Kentucky, the Cavaliers remained atop the Baseball America rankings this week.
“This coming out and these polls being what they are is obviously a great honor, but again, it’s all going to be proven this season,” junior outfielder Derek Fisher said. “We’re going to play obviously the best we can and just basically win every game day by day instead of looking at the big picture.”
Following an outstanding performance during the weekend, Fisher was named ACC Player of the Week. He hit .455 with five runs scored and three RBIs throughout the weekend, capped by an RBI triple in Saturday’s matchup against VMI to vault him into a tie for third on the list of most triples in Virginia baseball history. It was Virginia’s pitching staff, however, that was the strength during the weekend and will continue to be going forward, allowing just 10 runs and 20 hits during the course of three games.
“As good of an offensive ball club that you have … that doesn’t win you games,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “What wins you the games is the pitching and defense, and that’s the constant that has to be there every day.”
The Cavaliers’ pitching staff, which ranked second last season in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 3.38, is led by veterans. The player to watch in this weekend’s series, as well as going forward, is sophomore lefthander Nathan Kirby, who had a rocky freshman season but looks poised to bounce back in his sophomore campaign. He began 2014 on the right note Saturday, throwing six shutout innings against Virginia Military Institute.
“He has unbelievable talent, yet again,” sophomore pitcher Brandon Waddell said. “He’s looked great all fall … I’m really excited to see [him] … help our team out this year.”
Kirby, coupled with fellow sophomore Josh Sborz, could prove to be the difference-makers for the Cavaliers this season. Sborz bested his fellow sophomore, throwing six scoreless innings without yielding a hit.
“I really like Josh Sborz,” O’Connor said, “Josh is a guy that’s got a great arm and a good breaking ball.”
Virginia’s bolstered starting rotation will be on display this weekend against East Carolina, a team the Cavaliers have accrued a 7-2 record against in the last four seasons. Additionally, last season Virginia’s two early-season victories in Greenville against the Pirates jumpstarted a 14-game winning streak that propelled the team from near the bottom of the rankings into the top-10.
Though the Cavaliers have had success in previous years against East Carolina, this season’s Pirates team has the potential to give Virginia trouble. East Carolina was ranked No. 38 in Baseball America’s Preseason rankings and voted third in Conference USA by the conference’s 13 coaches.
The Pirates also boast two Collegiate Baseball preseason All-Americans in utility senior Drew Reynolds and junior pitcher Jeff Hoffman.
Virginia’s three-game series against East Carolina will begin Friday in Charlottesville and continue through Sunday.