The Hoos welcome the Army Black Knights to Charlottesville for the first round of the regional tomorrow. I don't anticipate the Hoos will falter. Photo courtesy of Sarah Tolzmann.
In the words of the former Cavalier great Sean Doolittle, NOW WE GO!
The first 56 games, those were cute and fun but now it is time to get down to the real business. Every game from here on out is the most important game of the season. Right now all sights are set on the Black Knights from West Point.
As I detailed in my quick hit preview earlier in the week, Army will enter this weekend with the best record of the four teams. At 41-13 overall you would think they'd be ranked in the top ten in the country. A closer look at their schedule and you think to yourself: GOOD GOD DID YOU PLAY ANYONE?! The Black Knights played a single team from a Big 6 conference. That team was the baseball rich school of Iowa.....That's right, Iowa. By my account, the Hoos will be the first big boy team that Army will play all year.
One of the biggest reasons Army has been so successful this season is Chris Rowley, who will start Friday morning's game against the Hoos. Rowley sports a 1.97 ERA and an 11-0 record in his 14 games started this year. He doesn't walk many (17), but has a fair amount of strikeouts (76) in his 91 innings. If the Hoos want to make sure they welcome Rowley the right way they need to be patient and make him throw pitches. He only averages 6.2 innings per outing which leads me to believe he could be knocked out early.
If the Cavaliers are able to knock out Rowley early in the game, it doesn't get much easier. The Black Knights bullpen has been solid the whole year as well. It looks like Manny Fernandez and Gunner Carroll (talk about a great West Point name) are the go-tos in the pen. Both have ERAs under 3 and have appeared in more than 20 games. Carroll also boasts the team lead in saves with eight.
Their pitching staff has been impressive and their batters have been nearly as successful this season. The enter the weekend with a .290 batting average lead by Senior infielder Kevin McKague. McKague has a gaudy .389 average which is 40 points more than the next closest Black Knight. He leads the team in hit, RBI, slugging percentage, and is tied for the team lead with 5 home runs. Overall they're not half bad at the plate. They don't strike out much and only average 5.5 Ks per game. More so, they average more than nine hits per game. There is something to be said for registering that amount of hits.
Looking at the stats, I am impressed with these Black Knights, but as I said earlier in the preview their schedule was just gawd awful. I am going to personally take all of those stats I gave you with a grain of salt. When you face a team like UVa, the hits that you got earlier in the year don't drop, you don't get many good pitches to hit, and the pitches you could get away with against Holy Cross end up as doubles.
I can promise you this Cavalier team isn't taking Army team lightly, but I don't think they have to worry very much. The superior UVa athletic talent and baseball fundamentals will win tomorrow and advance to Saturday to face the winner of the Oklahoma-Appalachian State game.
Come right back here to Streaking The Lawn at game time and join us for a live in-game chat. As usual, I will also be tweeting from @STLUVaBaseball.