It’s go time for the Cavaliers. From now until Mid-May, the Hoos will face ACC competition every weekend. No more Villanova. No more Seton Hall. No more Vanderbilt (thank god, but UNC, Louisville, and FSU aren’t far behind).
The ACC season opens up this weekend against the Duke Blue Devils. Duke comes in with a 9-4 record having not played a tough schedule as of yet, but lost both of their weekday games to Penn this weekend in Durham.
The Blue Devils have made two of the last three NCAA Tournaments and went 40-15 and 18-11 last year, won the Athens regional, and lost in three games to Texas Tech in the Super Regionals. Many think Duke could contend with North Carolina and Miami for the Coastal Division crown and should make the NCAA Tournament again this year.
As mentioned, they have not played stiff competition yet, but their pitching has been outstanding. Pre-Season All-America Graeme Stinson is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings over three starts. Opponents are batting just .053 off the Junior and he has 18 strikeouts. Graeme Stinson’s younger, Freshman brother, Cooper, is also in the weekend rotation for the Blue Devlis and has a 3.75 ERA over his three starts. Combined, the Blue Devils have a 2.80 ERA (compared to UVa’s 4.12), a .196 batting average against, and 172 strikeouts in just 119 innings.
Though not as strong, their offense has been impressive thus far as well batting .266 as a team and a .376 on base percentage. Senior OF Kennie Taylor has been the leader at the plate amassing a .383 average and .683 slugging percentage while leading the team in hits (23), RBI (18), runs (14), and stolen bases (6). Not to state the obvious but Kennie Taylor is the spoon that stirs the Blue Devil’s pot. Sophomore catcher Michael Rothenberg is one of the top prospects in the 2020 draft and has lived up to expectations as a swith-hitting catcher so far hitting .255, is tied with Taylor for the team lead with 3 home runs, and is second to Taylor with 15 RBI.
The Blue Devils are striking out nearly 10 times a game (127 in 13 games) and are only earning about 5 walks a game (69), but when they do get on base, they put pressure on the defense. Averaging just under three steals a game and have a success rate of 67% (21-31).
The Hoos haven’t played this level of competition since the opening weekend against the gauntlet of Vanderbilt, TCU, and Fullerton, but Duke hasn’t played a UVa-level opponent yet this year. It will be a clear measuring stick for both teams as to how they’ll stack up in the ACC.
Both teams will want to win the series, but a series victory for the Cavaliers could go a long way in boosting the confidence of a young team.