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Cavalier Baseball Heads to Durham: ACC Tournament Preview

The Hoos begin their quest for a third ACC Tournament Championship in five years this week.

Hoos are looking forward to getting back on the field at the DBAP, where they have had quite a bit of success in the recent past.
Hoos are looking forward to getting back on the field at the DBAP, where they have had quite a bit of success in the recent past.

When LSU is a participant of the College World Series, Omaha becomes something of a "Baton Rouge North" with all of the Tiger fans that travel to Nebraska. I am not going to get ahead of myself, but I am pretty confident that the UVa baseball program can lay claim to Durham and call it "Charlottesville South" with all of the success the Cavaliers have had there in the recent past.

The last three times Durham has played host to the ACC tournament there has been only one champion: UVa. Since 2009, when Duke began to play some games in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the ACC decided to return the tournament to Durham, UVa has a ridiculous 13-1 record with the only loss coming on a Friday of a three game series with Duke. So, if anyone tells you their team has success in Durham and they aren't a UVa fan, just smile, pat their pretty little head, and tell them "bless your little heart, you are so wrong." And then punch them because they're probably a VPISU fan and don't know what they're talking about.

This year the boys look to continue that hot streak at the DBAP. Before the Championship on Sunday, UVa will have to take on VPISU on Wednesday, Georgia Tech on Thursday, and Florida State on Saturday. Some might be uncomfortable having to play the Hokies and the Yellow Jackets since those are the only two teams the Cavaliers lost series against this year. I understand, but let's not forget where those two series were played.

On Wednesday the Hoos will play the Hokies. Coach O'Connor will send First Year sensation Branden Waddell to the mound. Waddell had a decent outing against VPISU this season. He didn't have great stats (5.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ERs), but UVa had nine runs by the end of the sixth inning and the game wasn't in question after that. VPISU had two players on the All-ACC team, so Cavalier fans will know who to look out for. The Hokies' leader is certainly Jr. Chad Pinder. If the Cavaliers can limit Pinder's impact and get a good start out of Waddell, UVa should come away victorious.

Thursday will feature the Cavaliers taking on Georgia Tech. Scott Silverstein will take the mound in an attempt to get his 2nd win against the Yellow Jackets this year. Scott was also the only pitcher to record a W against GT, so this schedule works out pretty well for the Cavaliers' rotation. Buck Farmer is certainly the ace of Georgia Tech's staff, and hopefully they will have him pitch Wednesday when they take on Florida State, a must win for the Yellow Jackets. The other player to keep an eye on will be First Team All-ACC selection Daniel Palka who lead the ACC in home runs (17) and is third in RBI (63). Durham is a hitter's park so limiting Georgia Tech's offense will be the key of the game.

On Saturday, Florida State and UVa will square off in what is likely the premier game of the tournament. Both teams enter the week ranked in the top ten and Florida State will be seeking revenge after getting swept in Charlottesville earlier this year. Coach O'Connor hasn't announced his Saturday starter due to need to play Nick Howard at SS and the fact that this could be a meaningless game. However, if I was a betting man, I would lean towards Whit Mayberry getting the nod, which would allow Howard to be ready should the Hoos make Sunday's Championship game. I would doubt FSU's ace, Scott Stitz would still be available, so I won't venture a guess as to who pitches for the Noles. For this game, there isn't a single FSU player to watch. Coach Kuhn seems to have mastered the FSU offensive approach, and it showed earlier in the season by holding FSU to only four runs all weekend which included a one hit shutout on Saturday.

Obviously, the key for UVa to be successful in Durham this week is going to be the pitching. Durham is very hitter friendly and runs should not be hard to come by for the potent Cavalier offense.

It's no secret that the two favorites coming into the week to play for the Championship on Sunday are UNC and UVa. Personally, I like the Hoos' path to the Championship a lot more than UNC's. Having said that, it is certainly no cake walk. As I understand it, UVa holds the tiebreaker should there be a three way tie in the pool, so 2-1 could allow them to advance. That tiebreaker is huge and I think it allows UVa to advance to Sunday and play for their third ACC Championship in five years. Wow.