I like to get the bad stuff out of the way early, which means lacrosse goes first today. Want to know what's so thoroughly frustrating about this team? Besides the brainfartitude, there are two huge, gaping flaws in the makeup of this team that prevent it from reaching its potential, which is frankly enormous.
Flaw #1: the obvious inability to win a faceoff. This frustrates me to no end, not least because I'm about to harp on the problems at the faceoff X after a game in which UVA's faceoff men won 15 of 26 for 57%. That's not half bad. It's pretty good. But you know what makes my head explode? I've been thinking for a while that Ryan Benincasa should take the majority of the faceoffs, Garrett Ince and Brian McDermott should come in only rarely, if ever, and Chris LaPierre should be the second guy for a change of pace every so often And then Benincasa wins zero of five against Duke and Ince and McDermott combine for 71%. I've mentioned before that I think the faceoff problems are basically coaching problems because of the inordinate amount of faceoff violations called on our team, and I think the total lack of consistency also points to coaching.
Flaw #2 is that there is but one player on the offensive side of the field - Steele Stanwick - who can make his teammates better. And he sat out to rest his foot on Saturday. For my own sanity I'll just assume that Coach Starsia did that because this game didn't matter half of what the next one did and he wanted that ace in the hole he could throw in next week to change the game around....and not because Stanwick's injury got worse somehow. I hope to hell not.
This is partly why I have that nagging feeling that the end-of-career fade is beginning for Starsia. For the last decade UVA has had a star attackman that gathers assists nearly as fast as he gathers goals. Right now that's Stanwick. In the past it's been Danny Glading, or Ben Rubeor, or Matt Ward, or whatever. They score and they help their teammates score. When Stanwick leaves after next season, who'll that be? Stanwick's talent was immediately evident as a freshman. You can always tell who the heir apparent is. Not this time. It's not Matt White or Rob Emery; the former has disappointed this year and the latter looks like a nice complementary player along the lines of Colin Briggs. I dunno, maybe I'm overreacting and the reason nobody's really emerged is because of so many upperclassmen in the lineup, but I doubt it; Stanwick and even Chris Bocklet, not to mention the players of the past, played their way in and made themselves indispensible.
But I digress. Two major flaws in this team and we still only lose to Duke and Syracuse by two goals. The talent is there to blow the competition out of the water. But there are some missing elements. It's like a Corvette with four-cylinder engine.
It doesn't help that we drive it with the parking brake on and the gas cap hanging off. The silly mistakes are still there. They weren't as obvious as against UNC, but there they were. Example: Shamel Bratton jogging down the field after receiving a nice outlet pass following a turnover and setting up the offense. Fine, except....you're Shamel Bratton and nobody's covering you! Jog? Shamel should've been sprinting downfield and ripping a shot at a corner of the net. If it misses, fine....then go set up the offense. Instead, Shamel jogged across midfield and the team proceeded to huck the ball around the box for thirty seconds before lobbing a beach ball at Duke's net, which of course was saved. I'm not questioning Shamel's effort here, I'm questioning the recognition. The Brattons are the kings of "argh don't do th.....YES!" Would've been the time for it.
So as a punishment for losing to Duke like we always do, we get to play Duke again on Friday. Let's hope Steele Stanwick is the difference. I'm not brimming with optimism here.
Fortunately, there's a cure for that: the baseball team. As punishment for beating our lacrosse team on Saturday, the baseball team beat Duke twice on Sunday - first by ripping their hearts out when they thought they had a real chance to steal a win, and then by stomping on it to the tune of 18-4 in the second game.
Friday was easy, of course, at least after the first three innings. Danny Hultzen served up seven innings of Danny freakin' Hultzen, although the early going was a little rocky while the UVA hitters tried to figure out how to get to Duke's soft-tossing lefty Dillon Haviland. Eventually they figured that out and before you knew it, it was 10-0, which is how the game ended. Shutout woo.
Sunday's game 1 was quite the pitchers' duel. UVA scratched out two runs against Dennis O'Grady and Duke did the same on a two-run double off of closer Kline, in relief of Tyler Wilson and his disgustingly efficient outing. Wilson took the blame for the runs but it wasn't fair the way he was pitching. Duke then brought scheduled third game starter Marcus Stroman in to finish it up.
Not a bad move, by the way. A few observers criticized the move but I liked it. For Duke, I mean. With Duke's miserable pitching staff you don't look for two of three against UVA. You look to steal one where you can get it, and so they went all-in and brought Stroman in, figuring that because he's a starter and the best pitcher they have, he could work some long innings in what you had to assumed would be an extra-inning game, and outlast UVA's bullpen while Duke worked on manufacturing a run. Stroman throws 95 and has the control of a kamikaze pilot. He plunked the first two batters he faced, which appeared to draw a warning from the home-plate ump - "one more of those and you're gone" is my bet, because UVA's third batter walked on four straight pitches that were so far outside they'd have been behind a hitter in the other batter's box. Bases loaded, none out, and UVA managed to score not even once. Then they did the same thing in the 10th. And then because baseball is a screwed-up game, two straight two-out base hits plated the winning run in the 11th.
Having run out of pitchers who can get hitters out, and having forgotten how to field fly balls, Duke fell apart in the third game and UVA won by 14. I can't decide which pop-up I enjoyed more: the one that landed about five yards behind second base because three Duke fielders collided on their way to it, or the one that landed about five feet in front of home plate because the Duke pitcher lost it in the wind. In the nine-run third, two of the three outs Duke recorded were sacrifice bunts. After that inning UVA had just as many hits as Duke and nine more runs.
If you paid attention to the starting rotation, you noticed Will Roberts got his ACC shot on Sunday, and you probably also noticed it didn't go too great. Roberts settled down some, but all in all gave up eight hits in five innings. But he walked nobody, which is the kind of thing that makes pitching coaches happy. For the same reason Cody Winiarski didn't get yanked after a couple tough outings here and there (that being: Brian O'Connor doesn't have a knee-jerk reaction to things) Roberts will almost certainly start next Sunday as well, and Cody will be the weekday guy for now. Both will be absolutely critical come the postseason.
- Ausar Walcott is back on the football team, about a week after his charges were dropped. Because I trust London on matters of discipline, it seems to be a good indication that Walcott in fact was less involved than his teammates in the Great Harrisonburg Party Invasion. But he's now buried at defensive end. I don't even want to guess at why, but playing time there is in far shorter supply than it is at linebacker. The defense is still very much a work in progress and keeping track of the shuffles is sufficient to drive a man crazy, so I'm not going to read much past that into the move for now.
- Speaking of legal matters, the George Huguely murder trial will begin next February. Surprised at the length of time? Don't be. It is the way of the court system.
- When Mike Tobey committed to UVA in January, I thought he looked like a player who'd start attracting a lot more attention as time went on. Remember, he was supposed to reclassify to 2013 and then changed his mind, and I really think Tony Bennett is a big part of the reason why he changed his mind. Bennett didn't want another two years to go by for people to get a look at what Tobey could do. This is why. Besides Tobey, the other interesting name on that list is 2013 recruit Anthony Barber, who UVA is recruiting pretty hard. Remember that name because he's a possible answer to the point guard question. I want him at UVA just because his nickname is Big Cat, which is the kind of old-old-school Harlem Globetrotter nickname they don't even make any more.
- Speaking of bright futures in basketball, Joe Lunardi's way too early bracketology for 2012 has UVA sliding into the ill-conceived at-large play-in round. (Look, I don't care what the NCAA calls those Dayton games: UAB and USC didn't actually make the tourney this year.) Lunardi's probably about right in what our expectations should be for the season. The ACC will be much better, especially if Jordan Williams and Reggie Jackson and Harrison Barnes and whoever else stay in college, and our highly-improved team might not beat it's 7-9 mark from this season but 7-9 will look a hell of a lot better. Especially if having Mike Scott back with all these freshmen turned sophomores and a functional Assane Sene and a redshirted James Johnson and everything else means we don't screw the pooch against the Seattles and Iowa States of the world.
- Lastly, you remember how there used to be highlight videos around these parts? There haven't been this year because of a change in my living, and therefore TV, status. But I think I've got that covered now. The solution to AT&T's fascist unwillingness to let you download your recordings from DVR to computer arrived on a big brown truck today. It's hopefully only a matter of time before videos are firing again.