Virginia will take to Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Thursday at 11 AM. Ahead of them are the second, sixth, and tenth seeded teams in the ACC. That being said, all of these teams will be in next week's NCAA Tournament and Clemson is likely to join Louisville (and UVA) as a regional host. The action kicks off Thursday morning at 11:00. Here's a look at what the Cavaliers will face this week in Durham.
The Tigers come in as one of the hottest teams in the country having won their last four weekend series, including wins over the ACC's fourth and fifth seeded teams, Florida State and NC State. They have become a favorite to host a regional, and with a good showing in Durham could be a national seed. Oh and yeah, they're led by the ACC's Freshman and Player of the Year, Seth Beer.
On offense, Beer leads the way with a .378 average and tied for the lead in the ACC in home runs with 15. Name an offensive category, and it's likely Beer is near the top. After Beer, catcher Chris Okey is a force in the middle of the lineup and is tied for the lead in the ACC in RBI with 62 to go along with 12 home runs. Clemson isn't a team that will beat you one run at a time, rather they get their runs in bunches. They rank 11th in the ACC with a .272 team batting average, but ranked third in runs scored, thanks in large part to the 56 home runs they hit on the year (good for second in conference and 22 more than Virginia). Connor Jones will have to keep centerfielder Chase Pinder off the basepaths. Pinder is the only other Tiger hitting over .305, but is the table setter and his team high 59 runs scored is a product of the bats behind him.
On the mound, Clemson's pitching is similar to their hitting. While their ERA and batting average rank in the bottom half of the ACC, their pitchers strikeout a lot of hitters ranking fourth in the conference. Against, Virginia, the Tigers will likely start Charlie Barnes who is 5-4 with a 4.46 ERA. He's a strikeout pitcher with close to eight strikeouts per nine innings, though he doesn't walk a lot of batters sitting around two walks per nine innings. The bullpen is anchored by Pat Krall who earned second team All-ACC honors. He has an 8-1 record, leads the team with four saves, but has pitched 70 innings in his team high 24 appearances (though that does include a complete game in one of his two starts on the year). Opponents are only batting .189 against him, so should the Hoos find themselves down around the seventh inning, a comeback could be tricky.
The Cavaliers and Tigers square off at 11 AM on Thursday. This game is key for both teams as they have very similar postseason resumes and the winner could find themselves in the driver's seat for the ACC's third national seed.
Coming into the year, Wake Forest was to be a darling of the ACC, and they haven't disappointed. Led by all everything third baseman and pitcher Will Craig, the Demon Deacons are the tournaments tenth seed, but likely to make the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in Durham.
Craig is certainly the leader of the Wake Forest offense and surprisingly missed out on repeating as the conference's player of the year despite batting .392, leading the league in RBI and slugging, and being tied for the league lead in home runs. Rounding out the infield though are two more All ACC selections with Nate Mondou earning first team ACC at second base and Gavin Sheets earning third team honors at first base. Mondou is sporting a .311 average to go along with 14 doubles and two home runs, while Sheets batted .332 with nine home runs and 44 RBI. The Deacons lineup features a fourth All-ACC selection in centerfielder Stuart Fairchild who made the second team. Fairchild leads the team in stolen bases with 14 and doubles with 19, so keeping him off the bases will be a priority.
Virgnia will dodge Wake Forest's Friday night starter and All-ACC third teamer Parker Dunshee as he started in Tuesday's play-in-game win against Duke. Against Louisville, Wake Forest opted to start their mid-week starter John Mccarren leaving Virginia likely to face Connor Johnstone or Drew Loepprich. Both have pitched Saturdays and Sundays this season with Johnstone moving into the Saturday role over the last two weekends. For the year, Johnstone is 2-5 with a 5.37 ERA while Loepprich is 3-1 with a 4.52 ERA. Late in the game, enter Craig. The two-way player leads the team in saves and has the lowest ERA on the team at 1.80. He's coming off an outstanding performance in Wake Forest's opening round win over Duke where he pitched 2.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out three Blue Devils to earn the save.
First pitch for Virginia and Wake Forest is Friday at 3 P.M.
Thursday, Virginia faces the conference's hottest team. Friday, they take on perhaps the best all around player in the league. So, it is just fitting that on Saturday they get a date with what many would call the best team in the country. Such is life in the ACC Tournament. Louisville comes into the tournament with the most wins of any team in the country with 46. However, that is thanks in large part due to a gaudy 33-1 record at home and luckily for Virginia and the rest of this pool, we're not in
Kansas Kentucky anymore. Still this is a very dangerous team, as they are led by the ACC's Coach and Pitcher of Year, and with a good tournament, could earn the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Louisville has a great lineup top to bottom. As a team, they lead the league with a .325 average and have six everyday players batting over .300. First team selections Corey Ray and Brendan McKay lead the offense. Ray is batting .326, leads the team with 14 home runs, and stole 37 bases which is just ridiculous for a college player. McKay hit .338 on the year and leads the team with 19 doubles. Joining Ray and McKay as all ACC selections are second baseman Nick Solak, catcher Will Smith, shortstop Devin Hairston, and third baseman Blake Tiberi. Solak leads the team in hitting at .390 while Smith, Tiberi, and Hairston weren't far behind batting .369, .368, and .341 respectively.
As good as Louisville is at the plate, they may be even better on the mound. Not only do they have the ACC Pitcher of the Year in Drew Harrington, but they have three pitchers who tied for the ACC lead in wins with 11 (Connor Jones was also tied with 11). And, one more thing. None of those pitchers is named Kyle Funkhouser who was the 35th overall pick in last year's MLB draft, but elected to return to school for his senior season. After Louisville went with their mid-week starter to face Wake Forest, it looks like Virginia will face McKay, Louisville's two-way player who earned ACC All First Team honors as both a DH/Utility and Starting Pitcher. McKay went 11-2 on the year with a 1.99 ERA and was second in the league in strike outs with 105. Oh, and one more thing. Louisville has the best closer in the league in Zach Burdi. While his record is only 1-2, he has earned ten saves on the year, hitters are only managing to bat .145 against him, and he strikes out nearly two batters per inning pitched.
By the time Louisville and Virginia face on Saturday night at 7 P.M. we'll know what each team needs to do to advance to the championship (if possible), but either way, it will be another opportunity for the Hoos to pick up an elite win and carry some momentum into the NCAA Tournament.
Stay with Streaking the Lawn all week long as the Hoos look to bring home the ACC Championship.