The 2011-2012 sports year has been a wild one for the Cavalier faithful. In many respects, it was our most exciting in years. That excitement came in large part to what I would consider some of our teams overachieving. The football team ended the regular season 8-4 with a bowl birth in the Chick Fil A bowl after many thought 6-6 would be a great year for the still new Coach London & staff. The basketball team finished in fourth in the ACC and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 because Mike Scott decided to play like Larry Bird. The lacrosse team, well they kindof underachieved. And the baseball team, much like the football and basketball team, was no different.
After losing what seemed to be an entire team to the draft and graduation the Hoos faced an uphill battle just to replace so much talent on their own team. The entire starting rotation, which included the #2 overall pick, was gone. All three outfielders graduated. There was no experience behind the plate, and the biggest power hitter was drafted. All in all, if you were a Cavalier fan in February or March you were a little worried going in to this year. Hell, I didn't even know who was going to be in the starting rotation, let alone the starting catcher! (I don't even know if Oak knew who was going to be the catcher in January)
Nerves weren't calmed when the season started either as the team proceeded to get off to its worst start in recent memory. They were 11-8-1 overall and 2-4 in the ACC with Clemson coming in to town the next weekend in the middle of March. At that point, I wasn't worried about the NCAA tournament, I was more worried about this team playing in Greensboro in the ACC tournament.
My nerves (and yours) were calmed as the first years matured, Branden Kline settled in to the pitcher we hoped he would be, the bullpen settled in, and Artie Lewicki became the most consistent pitcher on the staff. After that brutal start they went on to finish out the year with 28 more wins, which included 16 of those coming in ACC play. They swept Clemson, Wake, and Miami while taking two of three from Duke, Georgia Tech, and Maryland (first loss at Maryland and in Durham in forever *grumble grumble*).
Entering the post season I still had my doubts about this team though; something just didn't feel right. Looking back on it now with the results we now have, I realize that was not a statement against this team, but more a testament to the down year the conference was having. The ACC just wasn't as strong as it has been in years past.
The boys entered the ACC tournament as the 4 seed overall which tickled everyone (including myself). They were matched up with Clemson, GT, and FSU in a side of the bracket that seemed like anyone could win. After GT beat FSU and the boys knocked Clemson around, it seemed like the team was clicking on all cylinders. A run to the championship game on Sunday was all but assured! Shit then hit the proverbial fan. Georgia Tech hit about 15 home runs, 2 triples, and 22 doubles in a blow out that just about eliminated the Cavaliers from Sunday. The Hoos got back on track on Saturday by beating FSU who was the #1 seed in the tournament and #1 in the nation. A 2-1 weekend wasn't terrible and momentum was built for the regional the next weekend.
With a 38-17-1 record and a top 15 RPI, nobody was surprised Charlottesville was tabbed as a regional site for the third straight year. The selection also made UVa one of only five teams to host a regional every year for the past three years and one of only ten programs to make the last nine NCAA tournaments.
Unfortunately for the UVa fans everywhere, the team's road ended in their regional run at the hands of a hot Oklahoma and Appalachian State teams. I think the lack of strong pitching depth is what did the team in but four errors over the final two games certainly did not help matters. The team rallied and showed the fight that characterizes any UVa baseball team by cutting the lead to one in each game before falling just short.
In the end, I could not be more proud of this team. They entered the year unranked, unproven, started off even worse. They did not have a large contingency of upper class men to fall back on like the two previous teams had. More importantly, the future is beaming at Davenport Field. They will likely have to replace a Friday starter and a starting third basemen but enough first years got experience this year for that to not be a problem. Nate Irving will get more comfortable with Coach Kuhn, Derek Fisher will limit his strike outs as the game slows down which will lead to more home runs, and Artie Lewicki could become Roger Clemens on the mound.
We all might have been a bit disappointed with how the season ended given the string of success the Cavalier program had grown accustom to over the last three years, but the UVa program is certainly on the map now. Nobody wants to play UVa anymore and every team that wears the orange and blue will have a target on its back week in and week out. It will be a long eight months til the first pitch of 2013, yet I'm looking forward to that top 15 ranking that will surely be released in mid January for next year's baseball team.