The Virginia Cavaliers took all three once again this weekend and will close the season on a nine game winning streak. UVA pulled away down the stretch in both Thursday and Friday’s games in 12-5 and 10-6 victories, respectively. Then, on Saturday, the ‘Hoos closed out an 8-7 win, completing the sweep of Georgia Tech, and clinching the Coastal Division title in the process. Here are five takeaways from the weekend:
The ‘Hoos showed their ability to battle back and remain relentless
Throughout the weekend, every time Georgia Tech gained some sort of momentum, Virginia punched right back with a big inning of their own. In Friday’s game, the Yellow Jackets jumped off to an early 3-0 lead but UVA immediately countered that with three runs of their own. Saturday found the Hoos trailing heading into the sixth before tacking on five runs over the next three frames. As he is so accustomed to doing, Jay Woolfolk worked out of a jam to complete the save.
It is one thing to beat the breaks off of midweek opponents, but being battle tested is another thing. After this weekend, it is safe to say that the Cavaliers are conditioned to win either type of game.
Jake Gelof ended his mini slump with a bang
Believe it or not, Gelof entered Saturday reaching base on just three of his previous 16 at bats. Granted, one of those was a towering home run, but even small stretches of moderate production are unexpected from someone who holds all sorts of UVA hitting records.
On Saturday, he made sure we knew that this cold streak would not sustain. In fact, Gelof broke his own single-season RBI record with his 82nd and 83rd on a first inning blast, then proceeded to tie his own home runs record, adding his 22nd round-tripper in the seventh.
Furthermore, it is encouraging to see Gelof walk four times over the course of the series. Part of why he is highly regarded by professional scouts is his patience at the plate to go along with his power.
Defense, defense, defense!
One of the most under appreciated aspects of this UVA team is their defensive ability. For starters, they are a generally clean team, finishing the year in the top half of the conference in fielding percentage. More glaringly though, they have the ability to take away hits in big spots all around the diamond. Center fielder Ethan O’Donnell and right fielder Casey Saucke cover a ton of ground. Gelof has vastly improved on his ability to charge slow-rollers at third. Most prominently, shortstop Griff O’Ferrall made a pair of outstanding plays on Friday, including this SportsCenter Top Ten web gem.
The starting rotation bent but didn’t break
The newly refined trio of Nick Parker, Connelly Early, and Brian Edgington did not have quite the overwhelming results of a weekend ago but considering the high-powered offense they faced, their performances will suffice.
While Parker did not have his strikeout stuff, he induced enough ground balls to earn a quality start. Early was not fooling anybody and allowed three runs before recording his first out. However, instead of letting the game get away, he battled through five innings and got a no decision. Brian Edgington was not great either but avoided a complete implosion and kept UVA in the game.
Heading into the postseason, Parker has the most upside and has pitched in countless big games throughout his career. It will be interesting to see how Early fares against more postseason competition. His elite command has previously earned Patriot League Pitcher of the Year and he continued to shut down similar caliber lineups throughout most of the season. These coming weeks will bring UVA’s number two option his biggest test in his career. Outside of Parker and Early, the consistency remains to be seen and that is certainly a concern.
The middle relievers may be the biggest x-factors for UVA in the postseason
Time and time again, the middle relievers have kept the score in check and allowed the offense to propel over the top. Most specifically, it has been the younger arms that have provided the spark.
Freshman left-handers Evan Blanco and Bradley Hodges and right-hander Kevin Jaxel combined for 5.1 innings and just one earned run against Georgia Tech. Additionally, Jack O’Connor, who struggled in the rotation, had an encouraging outing of seven up, seven down on Saturday.
Once they turn it over to Jake Berry, who has had a breakout year, and the electric Woolfolk, UVA is usually in good shape.
The Cavaliers earned the number two seed in the ACC tournament. They will square off against Georgia Tech on Wednesday, followed by North Carolina on Thursday. If Virginia goes 2-0, they automatically advance to the conference semi-finals, but the advantage of earning a top seed is the tiebreaker in the event that UVA, UNC, and Georgia Tech each go 1-1.
The NCAA Tournament bracket will be selected on Monday, May 29th, following Sunday’s ACC championship. The Hoos are currently in good position to host their own regional.