The Cavalier baseball squad has extended their unbeaten streak to 12 games to start the season after handling George Washington 10-2 on Tuesday in Charlottesville.
Things will take a much harder turn this weekend though when UVA will start ACC play by traveling to Durham to take on the 7-5 Duke Blue Devils.
Though just 7-5 on the season, Duke has won two of their three series this year with the lone setback coming in a road series at Baylor two weekends ago. They took two of three each from Bucknell and VMI in their other series, but dropped their midweek game against East Carolina. They began the season ranked in most Top 25 polls and continued to be ranked after the first weekend, but dropped out after losing that series to Baylor.
Last season the Cavaliers were able to take the late April series two games to one by outscoring the Blue Devils 17-13 over the three games.
That preseason ranking and expected NCAA Tournament appearance this year comes in large part to their strong pitching staff. Junior Marcus Johnson and Sophomore Luke Fox tied for third best ERA in the ACC last year and had high expectations coming into this season. After getting off to a rough start against VMI to start the season, Johnson has settled down over his starts against Baylor and Bucknell to surrender just 2 earned runs and strike out 21 over 11.1 innings. On the other side, Fox was dominant against VMI, but has struggled in his two outings against Baylor and Bucknell to total a 5.79 ERA on the season while only striking out 13 in 14 innings.
As a staff, the Blue Devils have a 4.58 ERA and .236 batting average against. Yes, they played a three game set against Baylor and had a midweek game against ECU, but those inflated numbers should not strike fear into most ACC lineups. To make matters worse, they have a 1.76 WHIP and are allowing far too many base runners.
Senior outfielder RJ Schrek was expected to lead the offense after batting .337 with 18 home runs and 52 RBI last season, but has only played in 5 games after battling injuries to start the season. Instead, the offense has relied on junior third baseman Graham Pauley who is second on the team with a .333 batting average but leads the team with a 1.126 OPS and .708 slugging thanks in large part to four home runs on the season already.
Gone are the days when Duke was thought of as a doormat in the ACC baseball realm. This Blue Devils program won the ACC Tournament last year, has made three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and made the Super Regionals in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments. They have started off slowly this year, just as they did last year (6-6 through 12 games last year), but have an experienced and talented team that should compete for the ACC Coastal title.
UVA on the other hand is riding hot at the plate and on the mound averaging more than 13 runs a game and allowing just over two runs a game. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers react to a tougher opponent, but they should have more than enough talent to handle Duke if they continue to play at such a high level.