The biggest test of the year for this young Cavaliers team is going to come this weekend in the form of the Florida State Seminoles. So far the boys have been able to get around a few errors and some untimely walks to put together a fairly impressive 11-5-1 record and remain only a game and a half behind UNC for the Coastal Division lead. Unfortunately, the weekend cupcakes and bottom feeding ACC teams (other than Maryland) are off the schedule. As they say, "Shit is about to get real!" Fortunately for you and me, we can watch all the games on ESPNU (Sat and Mon) or ESPN3(all three games)!
FSU is going to enter this weekend with a top ten ranking and a reason to get amped to take out some revenge for the last three years. While the Cavaliers have been to the College World series two out of the last three years and the Seminoles went in 2010 when UVa fell to Oklahoma in the Super Regionals, the Hoos hold the head to head record 7-3 since the beginning of 2009. The FSU seniors and Mike Martin are certainly aware of this and will want to right the ship.
Before I get in to to the actual preview section of the article I wanted to tell everyone how much I respect the baseball program at FSU. I certainly never wanted to lose to FSU and when we beat them in the ACC tournament in 2009 I loved every second of it but the program that Mike Martin runs is impressive. Coach Martin is one of the classiest acts in college baseball. Every time I heard him speak of UVa during my time with the program or even after he has always been complimentary. When we traveled to Tallahassee in 2008 with one of the weaker UVa teams in the last 10 years, I heard him in an interview talk about how hard we played and respected the game (this was before the series in which we got swept). Certainly Coach O'Connor is our favorite coach in the country but Mike Martin comes in at a close second for me. Also, if you ever have a chance to see a Friday night game at Dick Howser Stadium, I recommend it.
As for this year's Seminoles team, there is a reason they enter the weekend with the #6 ranking in the country. They have three losses on the season, but one of them did come to the Phillies.....of Philadelphia. They swept Duke last weekend in their ACC opening weekend by a combined score of 20-5 but fell earlier this week in a hard fought game to Florida in Gainesville.
On the mound, their three starters this weekend have combined to win nine of FSU's 14 games including Sunday's starter Mike Compton who has a 4-0 record and a 1.54 ERA. In the past years, the 'Noles' pitching has been their downfall but it doesn't appear to be the case this year. They are striking out more than 7.5 batters per game while only walking a little over three and a half batters a game. Their closer, junior right-hander Robert Benincasa has been the most impressive Seminole thus far this year compiling five saves in eight appearances without giving up a run. He also has only a single walk and 14 strikeouts in the ten innings he has appeared in. The one glaring weakness I see in FSU's pitching is their starting pitchers stamina. Peter Miller and Brandon Leibrandt are scheduled to start for FSU this weekend and both have four starts on the season yet neither one of them are averaging five innings a start. If the Cavaliers can get the FSU starting pitchers in trouble by putting early runs on the board, it could be a beautiful weekend.
As impressive as the Seminoles' stats are on the mound, their hitters are doing just as well at the plate. Junior Jayce Boyd and (I am pretty sure)15th year senior James Ramsey are both hitting over .400. Ramsey is making a strong case for ACC player of the year so far. To go with his .451 average, Ramsey has scored 25 runs, has 15 RBIs, four home runs, and walked an amazing 20 times already. The Seminoles are also fairly aggressive on the basepaths with every player in their starting lineup having at least one stolen base attempt. Keeping the patient yet great hitting FSU team off the bases is going to be a challenge for this UVa pitching staff. Walks and errors are going to have to be kept to a minimum this weekend if the Hoos want to keep their three series winning streak against FSU alive.
I was impressed last weekend and earlier this week with the Cavaliers resolve to never give up and fight til the third out of the 9th inning. They should keep that up this weekend in Tallahassee but they are going to have to put runs on the board early and not fall behind as they have been doing. FSU is too good of a team to dig a hole to climb out of. Having said that, I think this will be the first time in my two years of covering UVa baseball for STL that I am predicting a series loss in my weekend preview. I just don't think the Hoos have the firepower this year to keep up with the Seminoles but they won't be swept. Official prediction: FSU wins the series 2-1. I certainly hope I am wrong.
As I alluded to earlier, all three games are viewable this weekend which is TREMENDOUS. While you're watching buzzer beaters and somebody ruining my bracket even more than it already is (I am looking at you ND ref. THAT WAS A TERRIBLE LANE VIOLATION AND I HATE YOU. NOTRE DAME WAS COMING BACK AND THEY WERE GOING TO THE SWEET 16 LIKE I SAID THEY WOULD), flip on your computer to ESPN3 and watch some UVa baseball. As always, I will be doing my best to supply some updates via twitter (@STLUVaBaseball) and GO HOOS! NOW WE GO!