No. 2 baseball hosts ODU, George Washington

Cavaliers set for mid-week clashes


Joe McCarthy is the reigning ACC Co-Player of the Week.

The Virginia baseball team set a sprinter’s pace early on in its 2013 regular season, winning 14 consecutive games to start the year. During their streak, the Cavaliers bested multiple opponents simply by swinging the bats. Virginia scored 14 runs against East Carolina in its season opener, 15 in a shutout of Toledo and 23 combined in a Saturday doubleheader with Bucknell and Harvard.

This season, Virginia (23-4, 10-2 ACC) started fast again — just not quite as strongly, and with a new look. The Cavaliers suffered three defeats in their first 14 games while winning three games by a single run. Virginia flashed its offensive prowess in a 17-2 drubbing of William & Mary but, more often than not, it was the team’s pitching and defense which turned heads. The Cavaliers limited their opponents to two runs or less nine times, once more than in their roll to start 2013.

The No. 2 Cavaliers may have a newly presented image this year, but going into a pair of midweek games against Old Dominion and George Washington Tuesday and Wednesday at Davenport Field, they remain a powerhouse. Virginia has won six games in a row and sits alone atop the ACC’s Coastal Division. The 2014 team certainly looks new, but it also looks good.

“Just one of those things where we’re just going to try and keep it rolling,” sophomore right fielder Joe McCarthy said after the Cavaliers swept Virginia Tech in a three-game series this past weekend.

McCarthy tormented the Hokie pitching staff, finishing with five hits in 11 at-bats and launching his second home run of the year to lead off the fifth inning of Saturday’s game. The 2013 ACC Freshman of the Year appears to have found his sophomore stride.

“I think I’m just a lot more comfortable out there — relaxed and not, I’m not going to say nervous, but [I’m] just a lot calmer at the plate,” McCarthy said. “I think my approach is better, and I just find myself more calm in tough situations than I was last year.”

Virginia’s Tuesday opponent, Old Dominion (16-11, 6-6 C-USA), gave the Cavaliers all they could handle last April, when coach Brain O’Connor’s group fought back from five runs down to win 10-9 on redshirt senior first baseman Jared King’s two-out single in the bottom of the 10th inning. Branden Cogswell, then a sophomore shortstop, scored the winning run.

The Monarchs are a tough team again this year. The pitching staff sports a 3.41 ERA in 258.1 innings of work, and senior left-hander Andy Roberts is 2-0 with one complete game in seven starts. The Old Dominion batting order gets on base at a .362 clip. Senior designated hitter Ben Slaton has three home runs and 21 RBIs, while sophomore second baseman P.J. Higgins bats .328.

On paper, George Washington is not at the same level as the Monarchs. The Colonials (7-16, 1-5 A-10) have yet to win a game on the road and have dropped six of their last seven games. Senior utility infielder Owen Beightol is one bright spot at the dish, where he leads George Washington in batting average (.325), home runs (two) and RBIs (nine). Sophomore right-hander Bobby LeWarne (1-2, 2.57 ERA) has shown put-away stuff as well as solid command, recording 29 strikeouts against 14 walks in his 35 innings pitched.

Last season, McCarthy was second on the team, with a .469 on base percentage and just one error in 60 games. Part of the fun this year has now been to see what the new freshman class can do. The results have been encouraging: Daniel Pinero has impressed the coaching staff with his flair at shortstop, and right-handed pitcher Connor Jones’ miniscule 0.88 ERA ranks first in the ACC. Jones talked about the reasons for his early-season success after picking up the win this past Saturday with four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief.

“You know, a lot of it’s just listening to what [pitching] coach [Karl] Kuhn and they say,” Jones said. “But I think getting in good counts is really important, especially with pitching, and I think that’s just a big advantage. And location — just hitting your spots.”

Freshman second baseman Tony Butler made the first start of his Virginia career Sunday against the Hokies, acquitting himself nicely. The Sun Prairie, Wis. native made all the plays which came his way in the field and drove in a run when he was plunked by Virginia Tech freshman reliever Luke Scherzer with the bases loaded.

“He’s a confident player,” junior left fielder Mike Papi said. “He goes out there and he’ll make the fundamental plays, and he’ll have a good approach at the plate. And just, he brings a good attitude and good energy to the field for us.”

The Old Dominion and George Washington games will both start at 5 p.m.

Published March 31, 2014 in FP test, Sports

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