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Baseball prepares for two midweek contests

Virginia's reeling pitching staff looks to regain their control against Georgetown and Liberty

Seven, twelve, fifteen. The increasing amount of walks, respectively, issued by Virginia’s pitching staff in last weekend’s home series loss to Florida State acts as a euphemism for the Cavaliers’ recent and steep decline in play in the past few weeks

After a promising game one win, the Cavaliers (14-7, 3-6 ACC) blew a 10-9 lead in 9th inning of Saturday’s game, which they ultimately lost 12-10 and gave up a then season-high 12 walks. They matched and exceeded that number the next afternoon, when they were beat down by the 12th-ranked Seminoles (19-6, 7-2 ACC) 13-1 in the series finale, giving up 15 walks. It was the sixth loss in the last eight games for Virginia, who is currently ranked 12th nationally.

The last two in the recent slew of of losses have given Virginia, who held the top national ranking just two weeks ago, sole possession of last place in the ACC Coastal standings.

The Cavaliers’ performance on the mound has been well regarded by both the coaching staff and players, who both partially accredit the problem to a level of inexperience and the early season.

“Some of the pitches thrown weren’t even competitive enough to swing at,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “You’re running some young kids out there that are trying to get their feet wet, and they are being a little too fine.”

Junior pitcher Nathan Kirby echoed O’Connor, saying if there was a time to exhibit such poor performances, it was now.

“It’s still early in the season. If you’re going to have a bad start or grind through a couple of starts this is the time to do it,” Kirby said.

Virginia looks to avoid slipping into another extended losing streak similar to the four-game skid they experienced two weeks ago—which included a series sweep at the hands of arch-rival Virginia Tech—when they begin consecutive single-game series on Tuesday at home against Georgetown, which they follow with a trip to Lynchburg to take on Liberty Wednesday afternoon, a game which also marks the beginning of a five-game away streak for the Cavaliers.

Georgetown (8-10) has struggled to produce offensively this season, which may provide muched-needed relief to Virginia’s distraught pitching staff. Sophomore righty Alec Bettinger(2-0, 2.76 ERA) is expected to start and has the steady arm which may act to calm the stormy waters of the Cavaliers’ pitching staff. He has only walked three hitters in 16 innings pitched this season.

Tuesday’s game should also act as good precursor for Wednesday’s matchup against a Liberty (14-8, 1-2 Big South), a team who is also experiencing setbacks after a 2014 campaign in which they held a 41-18 record and were nationally ranked, granting them a bid and three seed in the Charlottesville regional of last year’s NCAA tournament.

O’Connor acknowledged and addressed the team’s struggles, stressing that better play would warrant better results and challenged the team to embrace a new level of play in order to achieve legitimate success.

“We’re being challenged in the game right now, and we’re not taking care of the game,” O’Connor said. “Collectively as a group they need to understand what it takes to be successful.”

However, there are a few positive notes which the Cavaliers hope to extend in the coming games, especially on the offensive end. Both senior infielder Kenny Towns, currently batting .337, as well as sophomore catcher Matt Thaiss, batting .355, with a team-leading seven home runs and an absurd .697 slugging percentage, have  been offensive stalwarts this season.Their performances at the plate have been matched by freshman first baseman Pavin Smith, also hitting over .300 and leading the team in at-bats.

In facing up against the Hoyas Tuesday, Virginia looks to capitalize on another struggling  pitching staff, as Georgetown currently holds a 3.98 earned-run average. The same situation should be in effect Wednesday, as the Flames has also experienced inflationary figures on the mount, claiming a 4.08 ERA. These numbers bode well for the streaking Thaiss, who commended his fellow hitting leaders, who he claims allow him to experience no pressure at the plate.

“I don’t put any pressure on myself—with guys like Kenny [Towns], Pavin Smith, and Adam [Haseley],” Thaiss said. “Adam and Pavin are the two best hitting freshmen I’ve ever seen. I don’t feel any pressure at all with two big left-handed bats like them. If I don’t get it done then I know they will.”

Opening pitch tomorrow is slated for 4 p.m.


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