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Weekend Preview: Offensive Slugfest in Winston Salem

Cavaliers face their biggest test of the season with Wake Forest this weekend.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Tennessee v Virginia Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 Virginia Cavaliers now have the best start in program history after a beating down Towson on Tuesday 15-3 to move their season record to 20-1.

Now a Top 10 team in all the college baseball rankings, UVA will take their 5-1 ACC record on the road and face by far their toughest challenge of the year in Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons have a 17-4 record overall and 3-3 record in the ACC, but sit at 9th in the RPI and are 4-1 over their last 5 games after taking two of three from Georgia Tech last weekend and beating Liberty 13-6 in Lynchburg on Tuesday.

They finished last season 20-27 overall with a 10-22 record in the ACC, and while not predicted to make the NCAA Tournament again this year (last appearance was in 2017), D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt thinks they one of the top rotations in the ACC with three potential first round starters in RHP Rhett Lowder, LHP Josh Hartle, and RHP Teddy McGraw. Friday night starter Lowder is clearly the ace of the bunch thus far putting up a 5-0 record with a 2.22 ERA and 34 strikeouts in just 28.1 innings pitched. Though Saturday night starter Josh Hartle has the worst ERA of the three (4.85), most of that damage came at the hands of Georgia Tech last weekend where he allowed 8 earned runs (only allowed 14 all season) in just 2.2 innings.

As a staff, the Deacons are nothing to scoff at. Their 3.45 team ERA is holding opponents to just a .228 batting average and a 1.32 WHIP. The backend of their bullpen is held down by RHP Eric Adler who has already appeared 10 times on the season and amassed 4 saves. Adler is averaging nearly 2 strikeouts and inning. Adler is the clear closer, but he’s not invincible and is fairly inaccurate giving up more than a walk per inning while featuring a 5.59 ERA (thanks in large part to a 3 ER outing against GT last weekend).

The offensive side of the plate was a large question mark for the Deacons coming into the season with a young lineup, but they’ve shown up batting .329 on the season as a team with a .560 slugging percentage and .446 on base percentage. Many expected Sophomore Brock Wilken to anchor the lineup after he hit 17 home runs last year and was a preseason All-American this year. Wilken has done well batting .289 with 6 home runs and 24 RBI, but he leads the team in strikeouts with 28 and only has a .371 on base percentage.

The anchor of the Deacons lineup has been redshirt Sophomore Pierce Bennett (some might be familiar with Bennett as he played for the Tom Sox over the summer). Bennett is leading the Deacons with a .400 average and 30 hits while only striking out 7 times over 75 at bats.

The matchup of the weekend will clearly be UVA’s pitching against Wake’s offense. Wake’s stadium is known as hitter friendly (Wake has 41 HRs on the season already), so the Cavalier pitching staff will have their work cut out for them. They have proven themselves all year but this will be the best lineup they’ve faced.