On Monday afternoon, the Virginia Cavaliers baseball team was selected as the #7 overall seed and is set to host the Charlottesville Regional at Disharoon Park. UVA will open against Army on Friday at 12 p.m. followed by a Saturday matchup with either East Carolina or Oklahoma. If the ‘Hoos win this four-team double elimination tournament, they will host their own super-regional best of three series as well.
Let’s take a peak each of the teams that will be taking the field in Charlottesville this weekend
Three Things to Know About Army
- The Black Knights have won the Patriot League for the fourth consecutive season. In fact, one of those years, they made things interesting, stunning #1 NC State in the opening game of the regional. Needless to say, this Army team is no slouch. The Black Knights rank 91st in the RPI.
- Army has some serious power in the middle of their order. They have five of the ten Patriot League home run leaders, including 17 dingers from Ross Friedrick. Friedrick also finished second in the conference with a 1.113 OPS.
- The Black Knights prefer to pitch to contact. Despite finishing 14th in the country with a 4.13 team ERA, they rank among the middle of the pack in strikeout rate. As long as Army can keep the ball in the yard though, the defense has been very sure handed. Keep an eye out for shortstop Kevin Debrule who claimed the conference’s Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
Three Things to Know About East Carolina
- We do not need to go too far back to find their postseason history with UVA. Last year Virginia was eliminated in the Greenville regional, which ECU ended up winning. The Pirates also won Virginia’s regional the last time Charlottesville was a hosting site in 2016.
- The Pirates enter the tournament exactly where they want to be. Yes, Tulane upset them in the conference tournament but ECU is extremely hot right now. They have pretty much been rolling the entire season with the exception of getting swept in late April at Wichita State. However, they have taken 14 of their last 17 en route to the NCAA Tournament. Overall, the Pirates are 45-17 and 70th in strength of schedule.
- East Carolina’s pitching is built for the postseason. Unlike the Cavaliers (and most other teams), the Pirates have not been using relatively the same designated Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and midweek starters all season. It has been a lot of mixing and matching. With that being said, this has been a voluntary strategy and has been super successful. ECU led the American in team ERA, led by Trey Yesavage (2.80 ERA) and Josh Grosz (3.60 ERA).
Three Things to Know About Oklahoma
- The Sooners are have fallen down to earth since last season. After being the national runner’s up in 2022, Oklahoma’s 31-26 record certainly is not daunting but their 15th ranked strength of schedule was enough put them in the field. The biggest standout on the Sooners’ resume is a late April three game sweep over Texas on the road.
- Braden Carmichael has emerged as the alpha of the pitching staff. This came at a time where Oklahoma especially needed someone to step up. In his graduate season, Carmichael has broken out, pitching to a 3.15 ERA over 74.1 innings. Although his batting average against remains relatively high, his walks and extra base hit numbers are extremely low. We will also inevitably see Carter Campbell, a junior reliever who appeared in 32 games this season.
- When talking about the Oklahoma lineup, think Bryce Madron. The junior right fielder leads the team in both on base percentage and slugging, adding up to an OPS of 1.024. Many teams like to pitch around him and he took advantage with 59 walks on the season. Madron has been hitting third, just behind Kendall Pettis, the team’s leader with a .323 batting average.
Why Virginia Would Be Successful
This is a much more experienced ball club than last year and a program with a coaching staff that has been here plenty of times. It starts with ace starter Nick Parker, who actually pitched in Virginia’s regional last year for Coastal Carolina. He has plenty of big game experience and upside as a postseason pitcher. The bullpen can back him up with a flurry of young, electric arms.
Meanwhile, the bats are plenty capable. Third baseman Jake Gelof has set multiple single season UVA home run records and catcher Kyle Teel won ACC Player of the Year for a reason. Those two sluggers will have the table set for them by Griff O’Farrell and Ethan O’Donnell, who each have an on base percentage of .456. Six of Virginia’s nine starters have an OPS of over .900.
Why Virginia Would Struggle
Outside of Nick Parker, who has not been elite in his own right, the starting rotation is hit or miss. ECU will be one of the top lineups the Cavaliers’ staff will have faced all season. This can be detrimental, considering the amount of arms that need to be used and innings that need to be eaten during a postseason weekend.
The lineup is extremely good one through six but the bottom has underperformed recently and has especially fallen victim to the strikeout. As has Jake Gelof, who has seen his numbers take a slight dip, even though his home run power is still there.
Game One Outlook
Based on Coach O’Connor’s tendencies, I would imagine Parker takes the mound Friday against Army, a decision that would mostly make sense. Connelly Early has been dominant against similar caliber opponents but there is one problem with the Black Knights in particular: that is Early’s former team that is aware of all his tendencies.
If O’Connor digs deeper and goes to someone like Brian Edgington, he is significantly jeopardizing Virginia’s chance to win. Edgington will be needed at some point over the weekend but starting 1-0 (and eventually 2-0) is vital. Playing in the losers bracket limits options and adds extra games on the path to winning the regional.
In a perfect world, Virginia jumps off to a commanding lead in the first few innings and Parker could be taken out to be used again on Monday, if necessary. But that is certainly something you cannot count on.