One of the many beautiful aspects of the NCAA tournament is that we get to see matchups that we normally would not get to see in the regular season. Two of the three other teams in the Lake Elsinore regional have never faced off against UVa.
On Friday, UVa and Southern California will see each other for the first time in the two program's storied histories.
USC comes in to this weekend with a 37-19 record, and were likely just a few more wins away from earning a regional of their own. Instead, they make their second appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2005 at Lake Elsinore.
The Trojans have had a pretty fluid weekend rotation, but will send junior Kyle Davis to the mound on Friday against the Cavaliers. The righthander has a 4.23 ERA and 3-2 record in just four games started this season. He's averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, but also has a 1.500 WHIP and a .297 batting average against. Last week, Davis started against fellow NCAA participant Arizona State, and surrendered 5 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in just 6 innings, including 5 in the first inning. Davis does appear to be coming off an injury, and might be getting more healthy by the day, but given those numbers, it is a bit head scratching that Davis is getting the nod in such a key game for the Trojans.
Even if the Hoos get to Davis, the game won't get any easier. The Trojans have an impressive bullpen, and are said to have the best bullpen in the regional by d1baseball.com. Marc Huberman and Tyler Gilbert both have been impressive out of the pen this season with sub 3 ERAs and strong batting averages against.
At the plate, the Trojans have a veteran lineup lead by redshirt junior Bobby Stahel. The outfielder flirted with a .400 average and lead the team with a .524 slugging percentage. They batted close to .300 as a team, but the most impressive number for the Trojans is their 93 stolen bases in 125 attempts. Compared to UVa's 37 bases in just 59 attempts, and it is clear that the Trojans are quite aggressive. (With that in mind, expect a ridiculously long game as UVa will likely pick off at least once whenever a runner gets to first.)
It is critical that UVa gets a win tonight. Moving into the loser's bracket after day 1 provides an uphill battle the rest of the weekend that can strain a pitching staff. Unfortunately, the Hoos' record on Fridays in the NCAA Tournament away from Charlottesville is not that great. This marks the 4th time UVa is playing away from Davenport Field, and they are only 1-2 on Fridays.
First pitch is at 6 PM tonight, and like the rest of the regional, will be broadcast live on ESPN3.