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2016 Baseball Preview: The ACC Schedule

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Our 2016 Baseball Preview continues with a preview of Virginia's ACC opponents.

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The ACC is perennially one of the best baseball conferences in the country and this year figures to be no exception. After putting seven teams in the NCAA tournament last year (tied with the SEC) and two teams in the College World Series, the league as a whole looks just as strong this season. The Hoos will be challenged each and every week. Let's take a look at what they will face.

Duke Blue Devils - March 11-13: Durham, North Carolina

Duke comes into the year picked by the ACC media to finish fifth in the Coastal Division. The Blue Devils have not been to the NCAA tournament since 1961, but have been a somewhat plucky team in recent years. They took a game from Virginia in the teams' series last year in Charlottesville. This year they are led by second baseman Peter Zyla who hit .331 last season. Bailey Clark is their top returning arm. He led the team with a 2.95 ERA last season, but only went 4-5. While Duke isn't likely to make much noise in the ACC this season, they are young and will be just good enough to pick up a few wins here or there.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons - March 18-20: Charlottesville, Virginia

The Demon Deacons are led by ACC Player of the Year Will Craig who can absolutely mash, batting .382 with 13 HR and 58 RBI a season ago. He also figures to be part of Wake Forest's weekend rotation making him one of the top two-way players in the country. However the story for this team is their offense. They finished second in the league in batting and slugging percentage a year ago, and, in addition to Craig, return the majority of their lineup. The Demon Deacons are a trendy pick to surprise some folks and compete for a berth in regionals, so this mid March clash will be one the Hoos can't let get away.

Louisville Cardinals - March 25-27: Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville is the consensus favorite to win both the ACC Atlantic and the conference as a whole, and for good reason. The Cardinals spent most of last season ranked in the top five of national polls, and earned a National Seed in the process. They come into the season ranked #2 in D1Baseball's preseason poll. Pitching is what sets this team apart, where they are led by Senior Kyle Funkhouser who was a first round draft pick last year, but didn't sign, so he returns for a fourth season. While the 8-5 record isn't exactly dominating, this is a pitcher who has great stuff, can touch the mid 90's and will likely be drafted in the draft's first round once again. At the back end of the bullpen sits Zach Burdi. The junior right hander had a filthy 0.92 ERA last season and figures to be one of the best closers in the country. While the strength of this team is in the pitching staff, their offense is more than capable. Left fielder Corey Ray is the top returning bat. Last year he hit .325 with 11 HR and 56 RBI. He also swiped 34 bases. Though the Cardinals are in the ACC Atlantic, the ACC powers that be determined them to be Virginia's cross division rival (following the departure of Maryland). This is great for baseball fans as this series will be one to circle each and every year.

North Carolina State Wolfpack - April 1-3: Charlottesville, Virginia

For whatever reason, the Wolfpack always seem to play Virginia tough and last year was more of the same. After Virginia took the first game of the series, the Wolfpack would hit walk-off home runs in both games of a Sunday double header to take the series. This year, NC State returns much of the team that lost in an epic Regional Final to eventual CWS participant TCU. At the plate, catcher Andrew Knizner, first baseman Preston Palmeiro, and shortstop Joe Dunnand return to lead the offense. The trio hit a combined 19 HR and each had over 40 RBI on the season. Leading the way on the mound will be Friday night starter Brian Brown. Brown went 7-3 with a 2.95 ERA a season ago. In the bullpen, Tommy DeJuneas will get the nod as the closer. Last season he had a stellar 1.45 strikeouts per inning pitched on his way to a 1.82 ERA and six saves.

Boston College Eagles - April 8-10: Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Facing another team that figures to be in the bottom of the ACC standings, this road series is one the Hoos will have to take advantage of sandwiched between home series with powers Louisville and North Carolina. The Eagles won't wow anyone on offense, but they should be solid led by outfielder Logan Hoggarth who hit .300 a year ago. On the mound, right hander Mike King returns after posting a 1-5 record with a 3.03 ERA. The record is a bit misleading as Boston College isn't one of the better teams in the conference, but Adams has a legitimate shot to be drafted in the first several rounds of June's draft.

North Carolina Tar Heels - April 15-17: Charlottesville, Virginia

Normally, this series is played on the season's final weekend and provides each team with one final chance to make a resume building statement. The Tar Heels will be looking for some redemption after the Cavaliers swept UNC in that series last year leading to the Tar Heels being left out of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels' top returning threat at the plate is junior Tyler Ramirez. Ramirez is a table-setter with good speed, but a surprising amount of pop as he hit 10 HR a year ago. Zac Gallen and J.B. Bukauskas will lead the North Carolina weekend rotation. Gallen had a 4-3 record last year with a 2.79 ERA and a paltry 2.04 walks per nine innings pitched. Bukauskas has big league velocity, but still has a ways to go as a pitcher. He was 5-3 last year with a 4.09 ERA, but walks a lot of batters and surprisingly doesn't have a high strike out rate.

Miami Hurricanes - April 22-24: Coral Gables, Florida

The end of April will be telling as to where Virginia falls in the ACC and national pecking orders. Following their home series with North Carolina they will have to travel to face fellow 2015 CWS participant Miami. Miami has been picked by the ACC media to finish first in the Coastal Division and is a top ten team in the preseason national rankings. Last year, the offense pounded the Hurrucanes' way to Omaha. Unfortunately for the Canes (and fortunately for ACC pitchers) many of those key pieces aren't around anymore. There is still talent though as catcher Zach Collins hit 15 HR last year and outfielders Jacob Heyward and Willie Abreu are both really talented hitters who look to take a step forward this year.  Miami returns its Friday starter in Thomas Woodrey who went 7-2 last year, but the strength of this staff is in the bullpen. Closer Bryan Garcia will be the anchor coming off a 6-2 year where he had 10 saves.

Pitt Panthers - April 30 - May 1: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Coming off the previous two weekend's Virginia will get a not so daunting trip to Pittsburgh to take on Pitt who is another team that isn't expected to make much noise in the ACC. Pitt finished with the ACC's worst record last year, and will look to improve upon that behind Friday starter T.J. Zeuch. Much like Mike King from BC, Zeuch's record from last year is a bit misleading since the Panthers didn't necessarily give him many chances to pick up wins, but he is a physical freak standing 6'7" and throwing in the low to mid 90s. He strikes out about 9 batters per nine innings pitched and will give Pitt a chance to win each time he hits the mound. Keep an eye on shortstop Charles LeBlanc. The sophomore led the Panthers in hitting as a freshman and could be a candidate to be one of the leagues' best shortstops by year's end.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - May 13-15: Charlottesville, Virginia

After a week off for exams, the Hoos will host the Yellow Jackets from Georgia Tech. Picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech is one of those teams that is always very solid and in the conversation for a berth in the NCAA tournament. The last time Virginia took on the Yellow Jackets, it wasn't much of a game as Josh Sborz was incredible taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and the Wahoo bats exploded in an easy 11-0 win to open the ACC Tournament. Georgia Tech missed the NCAA Tournament last year but looks to get back this year returning the majority of their lineup as well as their pitching staff. Centerfielder Ryan Peurifoy is the table-setter for the Yellow Jackets and hit .324 last season. Right fielder Kel Johnson will provide the pop as he hit 10 HR a year ago. On the mound Jonathan King figures to be the Friday night starter. He was 4-5 with a 3.82 ERA, but the real story for the Yellow Jackets will be if their freshmen can step up on the mound, specifically Jonathan Hughes who could have a spot in the weekend rotation from day one.

Virginia Tech Hokies - May 19-21: Charlottesville, Virginia

Virginia Tech loses a lot from a team that went 13-16 in the ACC a year ago, including a sweep over the Hoos (after Coach O'Connor was tossed in the first game, and thus suspended for the next two). The Hokies will be led by their pitching staff notably Jon Woodcock who was 3-2 on the year with a 3.73 ERA. Woodcock isn't a dominating pitcher, but he is good enough to keep the Hokies in a ballgame. At the back end of the bull pen will be Luke Scherzer who led the Hokies in saves with four a year ago. He has a solid strike out rate, but hitters did have success against  him. At the plate, center fielder Saige Jenco will make this offense go. He hit .330 a year ago and added 10 stolen bases.

Due the ACC now having 14 baseball playing programs, the Hoos won't face the entire conference in weekend series. Falling off the Cavalier's schedule this year is powerhouse Florida State, upstart Notre Dame, and always competitive Clemson. There is some fortuitous scheduling there, but overall the schedule stills proves to be difficult.

The Hoos kick of the 2016 campaign Friday when they travel to Myrtle Beach to take on Kent State. Saturday they play Appalachian State, and Sunday at 1 p.m. they take on Coastal Carolina. Sunday's game will be televised on ESPN3.