We're 53 games deep in to this 2012 baseball season and what do we know? Well, I'd say we know that Coach O'Connor is one of the top head coaches in America (not that that is a surprise), first years know how to play some ball, there is no such thing as a rebuilding year in the UVa baseball program, and they should no longer be known strictly for their pitching staff.
If you want to ask me, I'd say they have overachieved a bit as well, but they aren't done yet either.
Everyone knows how much talent this program lost after their incredible run to the #1 ranking and the program's second College World Series, but let's look back one last time. The entire starting rotation, the whole outfield, both catchers with any experience, and the only player to play third base over the last three years. Not to mention the #2 overall pick that came out of that rotation. Eleven players overall were lost to either graduation or the draft and yet Coach O'Connor was able to lead this year's team to a top 15 ranking, the #11 RPI, and the possibility of a third straight regional in Charlottesville. Since the end of the '08 season, Coach O'Connor has averaged just over eight players a season leaving the program due to the draft or graduation and every year the program has ended the season ranked and either in a super regional or the College World Series. Rumor has it the statue of Oak is currently being constructed and it will be placed right next to the Keith Werman mini statue outside of the Dav.
When I got the chance to talk to the coaches before the season started I got the impression that none of them were too confident heading in to the season. Hell, they shouldn't have after everything they lost. Lucky for them the first years that they recruited decided that they liked performing on the big stage. Sure there were growing pains along the way (being 11-8-1 at the 20 game mark to begin with), but the first years settled in to their roles and have been great. Although none of them won ACC Freshman of the Year or were put on the First or Second teams, I would imagine as few as three or as many as six are Freshman All-American.
Building off that this whole "losing half the team" theme I've ran with so far, the upper classmen stepped up significantly as well. Stephen Bruno, Jared King, Colin Harrington, and Chris Taylor have been stalwarts for this team. After being injured for the better part of his first two season in Charlottesville, Bruno has had one of the better seasons in the ACC. Currently ranked 3rd in batting average and 7th in slugging, Bruno stepped up as the MVP of this team. It was truly a travesty that he was left off the 1st and 2nd team All-ACC teams. A travesty that Stephen will just have to right by winning the tournament MVP this weekend in Greensboro.
After losing that vaunted pitching staff last year everyone expected this year's to take a minor step back. Many were hoping Branden Kline would resemble the Kline that pitched against USC last year in the College World Series and Scott Silverstein would turn in to the Silverstein he was in high school where he was recruited harder than Danny Hultzen. Unfortunately, the staff as a whole has generally be "consistently inconsistent," but luckily Coach Mac had the bats working overtime the whole season. The offense features a .299 batting average which is currently tops in the ACC. (That is actually the lowest UVa average over the last four years but NEW BATS ARE AWESOME!) Not only are they the league leader in batting average, they also lead the ACC in runs scored and RBI. Not to mention they lead the league and are 2nd nationally in triples!
The team kicks off the ACC tournament early on Thursday morning (11 AM) against Clemson. I will be putting out a tournament preview in the coming days so look for that! Til then, cheer on every upset possible and the Men's Tennis team against USC tonight! Go HOOS!