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Cavaliers look to rebound against Redford, William and Mary

No. 23 baseball welcomes in-state foes for midweek contests

The 23rd-ranked Virginia baseball team dearly needed to win their weekend series against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers (21-14, 7-11 ACC) romped past the Yellow Jackets 14-4 in the opening game, and a series victory — if not a sweep — appeared likely. However, Friday’s victors never returned to Russ Chandler Stadium, and Virginia lost the series.

That narrative can be applied to Cavalier baseball far too often over the course of the season. Virginia took the first game of their series against then-No. 11 Florida State. After their comeback bid fell short in game two, the Cavaliers failed to show up in the rubber match, which they lost 13-1.

Two weeks later, Virginia baseball was notably absent from their series against then-No. 7 Louisville and were swept by the Cardinals.

“We need to do a better job of taking care of the game,” coach Brian O’Connor said after the Louisville series.

The Cavaliers’ woes cannot all be credited to a lack of effort. Virginia has lost close games in bunches — eight of their 14 losses have been by two runs or fewer. Six losses were decided by one run.

Two upcoming midweek games — one against a hot Radford team and the other against middling William & Mary — will serve to gauge Virginia’s resolve with a critical home series with Coastal-leading No. 9 Miami lurking on the horizon.

All signs indicate the Cavaliers will be without sophomore catcher Matt Thaiss for the next two games, if not longer. Thaiss sprained his ankle running out a ground ball in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game, and is currently in a boot.

“You’ve just got to fight through it,” senior third baseman Kenny Towns said. “No one cares if one of your players is hurt, so you’ve got to go out there and play as if it didn’t happen.”

Thaiss’ absence deals a massive blow to the Cavalier offense. As the three-hole hitter he leads the team in slugging, on-base percentage and home runs and is second in batting average and runs batted in. Furthermore, it comes at a time when O’Connor’s starting lineup finally stabilized — consistency cannot be overlooked as a cause for offensive success.

The onus of providing power now falls on Towns. In his final season, the senior is batting a team-best .326 with 13 doubles and 38 RBI.

“One thing I wanted to work on was the consistency,” Towns said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in good situations to drive in runs….I think I’ve had a really good approach in those situations. I’ve kind [of] kept myself simple and executed more.”

Virginia has dealt with its fair share of injuries thus far, and it’s now time for the next man in line to step up. Freshman Charlie Cody, who cranked a two-run homer after he entered the game for Thaiss, best exemplifies this.

Freshman second baseman Ernie Clement quietly had an outstanding series against the Yellow Jackets. He finished with seven hits in 11 at-bats. While not a middle-of-the-order type player, his increased production in the bottom third of the lineup would help flip the batting order around.

It will not be easy Tuesday against Radford. The Highlanders (23-12, 10-2 Big South) are ranked 36th in RPI — nine spots better than Virginia. They boast a series victory against Liberty and a win at Virginia Tech — something the Cavaliers cannot claim.

Radford’s offense is well-balanced. Four regular starters are batting above .300 and all four have between 16 and 18 runs batted in. Junior Shane Johnsonbaugh leads all betters with 18 RBI.

William & Mary will enter Wednesday with a losing record. The Tribe (14-18, 6-6 CAA) stole a game from then-18th Ole Miss in their second game of the year, but have little to show beyond that. Their lone bright spot has been the play of junior Charlie Gould. The Lake Forest, Illinois native leads the team in batting average, hits, home runs and RBIs.

First pitch for both contests is scheduled for 6 p.m.


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