No. 12 baseball squares off against Virginia Tech
Virginia travels to face in-state rival
After a few tough series losses to begin conference play, the Virginia baseball team regrouped on its home turf and is now on a roll. The Cavaliers (27-8, 8-7 ACC) are riding a six-game win streak and will look to continue their success against Virginia Tech (18-17, 6-9 ACC) in Blacksburg.
Virginia is coming off a long nine-game homestand in which it went 7-2. Both losses came in the opening series against then No. 2 Louisville. The Cavaliers played very hard, but ultimately lost two close thrillers to drop the series.
The Cavaliers hit a crossroads after this series. A 5-7 conference record was not how the team expected to fare in a season with such lofty expectations — the team was not playing up to its potential up to that point. Rather than letting faults define its season, Virginia came out like a lion in its next two games, trouncing Old Dominion, 18-5, and George Washington, 11-1.
The team was riding high after the midweek tilts, and would stay locked in as it began an ACC showdown with Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers swept the three-game series against the Panthers, outscoring them, 21-6, in the team’s best pitching weekend of the year. Starting pitching was a clear weakness in the team’s early ACC struggles, but all three starters gave tremendous efforts to help lead the Cavaliers to close wins in the final two games.
"We feel fortunate that we got all three this weekend. They were hard fought and we had to play good baseball," Coach Brian O'Connor said after the final game of the series Sunday.
A midweek game against VCU wrapped up Virginia’s long home stand. The Cavaliers put an exclamation point on a successful run with a 9-4 victory against the Rams, sweeping the season series with them. Sophomore outfielder Cameron Simmons led Virginia with four RBIs, including a two-run blast to open scoring.
"I thought tonight was a fantastic win for us," O’Connor said. "We had a challenging week last week with five games, and I was a little concerned about how we would come out and play tonight because I knew VCU is a quality team.”
Sophomore pitcher Daniel Lynch put up a second straight quality outing after struggling early in the season. His emergence has been instrumental to the team’s pitching success as of late, since inconsistency on the mound was a big problem for Virginia early in conference play.
From the plate, no one has been more dominant lately than junior outfielder Pavin Smith, who went 4-5 Tuesday. Smith has knocked in 14 runs to lead Virginia’s offense over the win streak. His 49 RBIs on the season is second in the ACC, and he has struck out five times in 155 at bats, a mind-boggling statistic for a power hitter. His explosion from the plate last week earned him both ACC and National Player of the Week honors.
Virginia’s opponent this weekend — Virginia Tech — knows power hitting better than most Division I baseball teams. The Hokies lead the nation with 63 home runs on the season and are fourth in the nation in slugging percentage at .513. The team is led by junior third baseman Sam Fragale at the plate, who has been the best power hitter in the ACC this season. Fragale leads the ACC in home runs with 13 and RBIs with 50, just edging out Smith. The team also houses ACC hits leader Jack Owens, who has 57 hits at a .368 clip.
Virginia Tech is one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country, but its outbursts only come in spurts. The team struggled mightily from the plate against Clemson last weekend, scoring only seven runs in three games as it was swept by the Tigers. The weekend prior, however, the Hokies put up 30 runs in a three game set against Boston College. Another solid weekend from Virginia’s rotation will go a long way if the team hopes to pick up its second straight series sweep. Top junior starters Derek Casey and Adam Haseley will be well-rested for the road trip, as will long reliever Alec Bettinger and other core members of Virginia’s bullpen.
The holiday weekend showdown between rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech will kick off Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at English Field.