The Virginia baseball team ended the regular season on a hot streak, winning six straight ACC series and 20 of its last 25 games. The Cavaliers hope to take that momentum into postseason play beginning with the ACC Tournament this week in Louisville.
The conference tourney shifted to a format of four three-team pools this season. The best record from each trio advances to the single elimination ACC Tournament semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. with the two winners there playing for the league title Sunday.
UVA took the No. 4 seed at the top of Pool D where No. 5 seed Clemson and No. 9 seed Duke await. Pool A features No. 1 seed Louisville, No. 8 Florida State, and No. 12 Notre Dame. Pool B has No. 2 North Carolina, No. 7 NC State, and No. 11 Boston College. Pool C rounds out the field with No. 3 Wake Forest, No. 6 Miami, and No. 10 Georgia Tech.
The Cavaliers don’t play until Thursday at 11 a.m. when they face Duke. They play at 11 a.m. on Friday against Clemson. The Tigers and Blue Devils square off Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the other game for the pool. The Pool D winner plays in the first semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m.
Since the Hoos are considered an NCAA Tournament lock regardless of this week’s ACC Tournament outcome, will they go all out to try to claim the title? Long-time fans of Brian O’Connor’s Virginia baseball program likely already know the answer to that question.
“I mean, it’s a good question, because I think you hear a lot from coaches that, hey, the most important weekend starts next weekend,” O’Connor said about the start of the NCAA Tournament. “That said, two of the four years we’ve been to Omaha, 2009 and 2011, we won the ACC Championship. And make no mistake about it, we are here to play well Thursday and Friday and give ourselves a chance to get to Saturday to try to get to the championship. Winning the ACC Championship in baseball is one of the more coveted things. This tournament is so, so challenging with the level of competition that you’re playing. I feel it’s important to come here and play really well, play to win the title. Because I think there can be carryover from that into the following weekend and give the players a very high level of confidence. So we’re here to win this thing.”
To finish the season on such a winning streak, the Cavaliers had to grind their way through some series. They captured seven of their final eight ACC series, but lost the opening game four times in that stretch. UVA fell 19-3 in the first Duke game, 6-4 in the first Florida State game, 5-1 in the first Miami game, and 14-7 in the first Georgia Tech.
The Virginia baseball team also dropped the middle game 8-2 against Notre Dame, meaning it needed to take the final game to win a series five times in league play. The club almost pulled off the same feat against Louisville, falling 4-3 in the final game after leading entering the eighth inning.
O’Connor said this season’s team figured out the need to keep battling all the way back in the Duke series in Charlottesville. The Blue Devils rolled 19-3 in that opener, but the Hoos bounced back to with back-to-back 13-6 wins.
“We got our butts kicked on Friday night, plain and simple. They beat us up and we responded,” O’Connor sad. “But this has been the story of this team this year. It just happened down at Georgia Tech this past weekend Thursday, Game 1, they beat us up, and our guys responded the next day and the day after that. So this has been – it hasn’t come easy for this team. There have been a lot of cases where we lost a game on a weekend and had to respond. I think you’re right that Duke weekend kind of set the tone for us that this is the way that we have to be. This is the way that we need to play the game. Since that point in time, we’ve played very, very consistent baseball.”
Hot Offense Helps Hot Finish
One reason the Hoos came through with so many comeback weekends is their offense is one of the nation’s best. The Cavaliers stand No. 4 nationally in batting average (.325), No. 9 in scoring (8.0 runs per game) No. 10 in on-base percentage (.410), No. 10 in runs (431), No. 12 in slugging percentage (.486), and No. 39 in home runs per game (1.09). They scored at least seven runs 33 times this season.
Adam Haseley is tied for seventh nationally with a .400 batting average. Cameron Simmons is also top 50 at No. 44 with a .373 average. Haseley is tied for 19th nationally with 82 hits and is one home run out of the top 50 with 14 on the season. Haseley ranks seventh in on-base percentage at .498 and is tied for third in runs with 64. Jake McCarthy is tied for 38th with 55 runs. Haseley is 12th nationally in slugging percentage at .688.
Pavin Smith is tied for fifth nationally with 70 RBI, which set a new single season record for the Virginia baseball program. Haseley and Simmons each have 53 RBI to sit just outside the top 50 nationally. McCarthy is No. 9 in the country with 27 stolen bases.
Adding to the headaches for Virginia baseball opponents is that the Hoos feature players that are simply hard to get out. Ernie Clement is No. 1 nationally with only 7 strikeouts in 235 at-bats a 33.6 average. Smith is No. 2 with 8 K’s in 10 at-bats, while Robbie Coman is eighth with 10 strikeouts in 178 at-bats. Haseley has drawn 40 walks in 53 games.
“We left Charlottesville really impressed with their club, particularly offensively,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “The combination of Clement and Hasley and Smith at the top of their lineup is as tough of a group of guys to pitch to through the top of the lineup as any in our league. Obviously, the thing that jumps out to you about them offensively is how rare they strike out. Their numbers, as I described to our staff, they’re almost like video game numbers. You just don’t see a college baseball team that walks that many more times than they strike out over the course of a season.”
McCarthy Ends Season On High Note
Virginia baseball sophomore Jake McCarthy wrapped up the regular season with a big series in Atlanta. In the opener at Georgia Tech, he tallied his first career two-home run game. In the second game, he followed that up with his first career four-hit game.
For the week’s four games, McCarthy recorded 12 hits and six of them went for extra bases. That earned McCarthy the ACC Player of the Week recognition.
He finished the regular season with 74 hits, 55 runs, 35 RBI, 5 home runs, and 27 stolen bases. He hit .344 with a .530 slugging percentage and a .991 fielding percentage.
“I think he’s capable of hitting in a lot of different spots,” O’Connor said. “Part of the reason I moved him to the nine for that period of time was I thought Andy Weber was really swinging a hot bat for us. And sometimes you’ve got to make those moves. Players go through a season. They go through ups and downs and through some streaks. During that period of time, it was the best thing for our team. The best thing for Jake to push him down towards the bottom. I love him at the nine, too, because he’s a great hitter at the back of the order. He has a chance to turn it over, a chance to steal the base and get into scoring position for those guys at the top of the lineup. So that said, since we’ve moved him back to the two, he’s really producing. Really high on base-base percentage, which is important for the two guys set behind him in Haseley and Smith. So really proud of Jake. We talked about Jake all year long, how him being healthy this year, the impact he can make to our lineup, and it certainly shows.”
Virginia Baseball All-ACC Picks
While McCarthy picked up a weekly honor, six of his teammates earned spots on the All-ACC team. Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith were first-team selections, while Cameron Simmons landed on the second team. Ernie Clement, Robbie Coman, and Tommy Doyle received third-team honors.
Noah Murdock made the 2017 All-Freshman team.