Each year, Virginia faces a steady diet of the best competition in the country. Between playing mid-week games in the talent rich state of Virginia along with arguably the best conference in the country, the Hoos are always battle tested come June. Here’s a look at what’s to come
Non Conference Highlights
Early season power conference matchups
Early in the season, the Hoos have typically traveled to North or South Carolina to take on the likes of Coastal Carolina and East Carolina. Not power conference foes, but traditional baseball powers. They probably picked a good year to buck that trend given that East Carolina took down the Charlottesville Regional last season and Coastal Carolina did the Pirates one better and took down the College World Series. Instead, the Hoos will take on Kansas from the Big 12 in a single game in Charleston and follow that up with a series in Charlottesville against Rutgers from the Big 10. Neither are particularly competitive in their conference, but given the committees reliance on RPI, playing power conference schools is seen as a plus.
Throughout the season, Virginia will sprinkle in mid-week games against the best the state of Virginia has to offer. This season, Virginia will face Liberty, William and Mary, Old Dominion, Longwood, James Madison, and Radford. Of these teams, only William and Mary made a Regional last season, coming in second in the Charlottesville Regional and going 1-1, including the knockout blow against our Hoos. However, coming into the year keep an eye on Liberty, Longwood, and ODU in addition to the Tribe as teams that could sneak to the top of their conferences and perhaps steal one in Charlottesville
Home and home series
Given Virginia’s stature as the premier program in the state, it’s not often they jump on a bus for a mid-week roadtrip. But this year, they will make two such trips with a return visit in Charlottesville from both teams.
First the Hoos will travel to take on the George Washington Colonials. George Washington doesn't figure to be in the regional conversation, but they are a scrappy team that relies on the run game, so if the Hoos aren't sharp, the Colonials could get a win or two.
Then they’ll head down I-64 and play their annual game against Virginia Commonwealth at The Diamond in Richmond. The Rams missed out on the tournament last season just barely, and figure to be in the mix in the Atlantic 10, picked to finish third by D1 Baseball. The Rams have some very talented freshmen coming in this year and are always up for their shot at the Hoos.
To fill out the early non-conference schedule and mid-week games, the Hoos will take on The Citadel in Charleston, have a four game series (two games apiece) with Niagara and La Salle, a series with Monmouth, and a mid-week game with Towson. The series with Monmouth could be an interesting one. The Hawks stole a win in Charlottesville a year ago and return Metro-Atlantic Pitcher of the Year Ricky Dennis who is a 6’8” right hander who went 9-5 a season ago.
North Carolina - Virginia’s ACC season starts off with a bang with a trip to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels who were picked to win the Coastal Division by ACC coaches. The Tar Heels are led by J.B. Bukauskas and his 7-2 record and 3.10 ERA from a year ago. The junior right-hander is one of the top pro prospects in the country thanks in large part to his 12.8 strike out per nine innings. At the plate, another junior, Zach Gahagan, will provide the pop. After hitting five home runs a year ago, Gahagan excelled in the Cape Cod League and figures to improve on that number this year.
Clemson - The next series doesn’t get any easier for the Hoos as they make their second consecutive road trip to start ACC play. This time to take on the defending ACC Tournament Champions Clemson Tigers and their ACC Player of the Year Seth Beer. This year’s Tigers figure to have plenty of power, who along with Beer feature three more guys with double digit home run potential. Pat Krall will be the team’s ace after returning for his senior year. Previously a shut down closer, he will transition to the starting rotation where he shined in limited starts a year ago.
Duke - The Blue Devils lost their four top starting pitchers from last year’s Regional team, but don’t let that make you think they’re going to return to the Coastal cellar. The lineup returns it’s core that led Duke to a 33-24 record. Justin Bellinger and Jack Labosky are the focal points of the offense and combined for over half of the Blue Devils’ home runs a season ago.
Louisville - Coming off of two years where Louisville has hovered around the number one spot in the country, the Cardinals look to come down somewhat from their lofty perch. But that doesn’t mean this team isn’t one of the best in the ACC. Any team featuring Brendan McKay will be formidable. McKay is a two-way player and is in the conversation for ACC player of the year as the team’s Friday starter and one of their biggest home run threats.
Pittsburgh - The Panthers are in a rebuilding year after losing pitcher T.J. Zeuch and shortstop Charles Leblanc to the draft a year ago. Zeuch was taken in the first round while Leblanc was selected in the fourth. What is left behind is a collection of freshmen expected to start right away and a pitching staff that has thrown some college innings but not had tremendous success.
Virginia Tech - It was a season to forget for Virginia Tech last year, winning only six ACC games. They have the makings to improve returning most of their lineup, however how much they improve remains to be seen. Their strength lies in their pitching staff, particularly Friday night starter Aaron McGarity who was 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA before an injury cut his season short. The wildcard is Packy Naughton who despite a 3-7 record and 6.75 ERA might have the team’s best stuff as evidenced by his 1.68 ERA and 7:1 strike out to walk ratio this past summer in the Cape Cod League.
Notre Dame - The Fighting Irish were one of last season’s biggest disappointments after a stellar 2015 season and will have to replace their three best hitters from a year ago. But the pitching staff is strong and deep featuring three of the ACC’s top pro prospects in Peter Solomon, Brandon Bielak, and Brad Bass. All were Cape Cod League standouts this summer and figure to make up one of the best weekend trios in the league.
Florida State - Virginia got no favors from the ACC schedule makers when assigning Atlantic Division foes having the Hoos play the teams picked to finish one, two, and three in the division while missing Boston College who was picked to finish last. Rounding out the cross-division matchups may be the toughest of all, a trip to Tallahassee. The Seminoles were picked going away by the coaches to not only win the Atlantic Division, but the ACC as well. Their left side of the infield will lead a potent offense. Shortstop Taylor Walls is a returning All-American and comes off a year where he hit .355. Junior Dylan Busby is slotted to play third base and led the team in home runs with 14 last season. Cole Sands appears to be the leading candidate to lead the staff. While he was only 6-7 with a 4.13 ERA, there have been reports of significant improvement coming for the highly touted recruit.
Miami - The Hurricanes were the ACC’s lone representative in Omaha last season, and while they have lost a ton of talent from that murderer’s row lineup, still return a top team in the ACC. Center-fielder Carl Chester will set the tone. The junior hit .336 last year and will highlight a lineup that won’t hit for as much power, but will still be very potent at manufacturing runs. The strength of the 2017 Canes lies in the pitching led by Michael Mediavilla whose 9-2 record and 3.39 ERA were best on the team.
Georgia Tech - Georgia Tech battled injuries throughout their pitching staff a season ago, yet still managed to make a Regional Final. Jonathan Hughes was one of those injured, but figures to return and be the ace of the staff. Hughes has a nice pedigree as he was taken in the second round of the MLB Draft out of high school but opted to enroll at Georgia Tech. At the plate, the Yellow Jackets shine. Brandt Stallings and Kel Johnson anchor the lineup and combined to hit 18 home runs a season ago.
Overall, the Hoos will face a daunting schedule with seven regional teams. It all kicks off Friday at 12 P.M. against the Liberty Flames. Be sure to check out our other Virginia Baseball previews (pitching, infielders/catchers) and as always, Go Hoos!!!