Thursday, June 2, 2011

charlottesville regional preview

Tomorrow it's fer reals.  The lacrosse team having achieved Mission Accomplished, it's now the baseball team's turn to take a run at a national title.  For the second year in a row, UVA will host a regional of their very own at Davenport Field as the regional 1 seed, and being nationally seeded (the top national seed, in fact) is in line to host a super-regional if they advance.

East Carolina, St. John's, and Navy are the teams trekking to Charlottesville for regional play; UVA will play Navy on Friday at 1 PM and the other two will play at 6.  The format for the weekend is double elimination, and all games will luckily be on quasi-TV with video streaming at NCAA.com.  That's not all that cool but it's better than nothing, which is what you get with 11 or 12 of the 16 regionals.

Here's what you get when these teams come to town:

Navy Midshipmen

Starters:

C - Jeff Bland (.264-3-33)
1B - Kash Manzelli (.196-0-6)
2B - Nick Driscoll (.272-2-29)
SS - Dylan Wheeler (.194-0-11)
3B - Greg Dupell (.332-7-35)
LF - Brandon Beans (.263-0-21)
CF - Alex Azor (.332-0-33)
RF - Taylor Cato (.342-0-14)
DH - Dave Milanes (.304-3-48)

SP - Ben Nelson (6-5, 4.64)
SP - Sam Long (5-5, 4.34)
SP - Johnny Schoberl (5-1, 4.73)

RP - Wes Olson (7-1, 2.57)
RP - Preston Gainey (2-0, 2.40)
RP - Jordan Heller (1-3, 6.57)
CL - Joel Rinehart (2-2, 1.88)

Record: 33-23, 12-8
RPI rank: 189

Common opponents:

Maryland: UVA 3-0 (14-1, 4-2, 4-2), Navy 0-1 (3-8)
Georgetown: UVA 1-0 (4-0); Navy 1-1 (9-2, 2-17)
Towson: UVA 2-0 (6-0, 5-0); Navy tied 8-8

Your Patriot League champ is the mighty USNA, and their reward is this trip just up the road to Charlottesville.  No, it doesn't make Navy the worst seed in the tournament - travel rather than seeding dictates where the hapless regional 4 seeds go - but they're close.

UVA will pitch Will Roberts tomorrow against Navy, and the Middies counter with right-hander Ben Nelson.  Nelson is a three-pitch guy who's going to try and get his change-up working on Friday on the theory that UVA hasn't seen much of that in the ACC.  (Um, ok.)

For the most part, Navy's lineup is way crappier than anything the ACC has ever presented our pitchers.  This is basically a weekday game.  There are decent hitters in the middle but Navy probably won't be able to touch Roberts with anything after the #5 hitter.  Greg Dupell is the only threat to hit one over the longish Davenport fences, so UVA will see a very poor man's version of itself as Navy will try to advance its runners via solid baserunning and the old-fashioned chess game rather than hacking their way around the bases.  As best I can tell, some of the troubles at the plate come from trading hitting for fielding with some midseason position switches.  Giving Patriot League ROY Taylor Cato more playing time as the season progressed shored up the hitting, but they may choose to put speed on the bases and a better glove in the field by playing junior Andrew Hahn over Cato.

Usual caveats about anything-can-happen aside, this is not a troublesome matchup.  Being the 1 seed gives you the luxury of throwing your #3 pitcher and having him still be better than the opponent's ace.  That's what's going on here, allowing Danny Hultzen to be saved for the all-important second game.

St. John's Red Storm

Starters:

C - Joe Witkowski (.255-0-22)
1B - Paul Karmas (.319-5-40)
2B - Matt Weissinger (.274-6-42)
SS - Joe Panik (.402-9-56)
3B - Pat Talbut (.279-1-9)
LF - Jeremy Baltz (.312-6-58)
CF - Jimmy Brennan (.281-3-19)
RF - Kevin Grove (.325-4-19)
DH - Robert Case (.264-0-12)

SP - Kyle Hansen (8-6, 2.70)
SP - Sean Hagan (6-2, 4.55)
SP - Kevin Kilpatrick (4-3, 4.44)
SP - Brendan Lobban (6-2, 4.04)

RP - Stephen Rivera (4-2, 2.68)
RP - Eddie Medina (3-1, 3.73)
CL - Matt Carasiti (2-2, 2.52)

Record: 35-20, 18-8
RPI rank: 53

Common opponents:

Georgia Tech: UVA 2-1 (6-2, 12-9, 8-10); SJU 1-2 (0-13, 0-5, 13-3)
North Carolina: UVA 1-3 (0-6, 1-2, 2-3, 3-2); SJU 0-1 (1-8)
Boston College: UVA 2-1 (17-0, 4-5, 4-0); SJU 1-0 (5-4)
Georgetown: UVA 1-0 (4-0); SJU 3-0 (7-3, 25-7, 12-2)

When last we met, last year right at this time, St. John's was giving UVA fits.  UVA jumped out to a 5-2 lead in what would have been the regional's final game, but couldn't hold on to it, and Kevin Kilpatrick pitched 5 1/3 absolutely baffling innings in relief.  UVA won the next day, but that wasn't easy, either.

The Storm aren't Big East champs, but the committee thinks well enough of the Big East to give them three bids to the tourney, so second-place St. John's - which did make it to the championship game before losing to surprise champ Seton Hall - is in Charlottesville, probably as one of the last at-large teams chosen.

Last year the story was that they could hit but only had one decent pitching arm.  (At least, going in. They almost used those not-very-good arms to pull off a colossal upset.)  It's about the same this year, but with a little more bullpen added in.  Jeremy Baltz had some of the gaudiest numbers in the country last year and smacked four more homers in the regional; he's a little down this year but still leads his team in RBIs.  The real deal, though, is Golden Spikes semifinalist Joe Panik, one of 19 .400 hitters in the country.

St. John's is going with Sean Hagan in their Friday game against East Carolina, meaning that 1) they subscribe to the same theory I do, which is that the Saturday game is the most important and your best pitcher should pitch it, and 2) we'll probably see Kyle Hansen on Saturday if St. John's is the opponent.  Hansen is a big frickin' dude at 6-foot-8, and he's the only pitcher on the roster who's a major threat to strike out the side.  SJU will try to wring a lot of innings out of their starters because there are only three reliable pitchers in the bullpen.  If they have to use Johnny Wholestaff in a game it could get ugly.

This might be the matchup to hope for, if only because Joe Panik vs. Danny Hultzen would be the best possible pitcher-batter duel of the weekend.  The new bats sapped SJU of a lot of their power, but it's still a dangerous-hitting lineup.

East Carolina Pirates

Starters:

C - Zach Wright (.278-13-39)
1B - John Wooten (.284-1-27)
2B - Mike Ussery (.282-0-17)
SS - Jack Reinheimer (.323-0-21)
3B - Corey Thompson (.330-5-45)
LF - Ben Fultz (.301-4-26)
CF- Trent Whitehead (.332-4-29)
RF - Philip Clark (.329-3-27)
DH - Chase McDonald (.302-3-26)

SP - Seth Maness (9-3, 1.88)
SP - Mike Wright (6-3, 2.84)
SP - Kevin Brandt (7-3, 2.26)

RP - Brad Mincey (5-4, 1.55)
RP - Joseph Hughes (0-0, 3.32)
CL - Seth Simmons (6-2, 2.56)

Record: 39-19, 14-10
RPI rank: #26

Common opponents:

NC State: UVA 2-1 (2-6, 3-1, 7-6); ECU 0-1 (2-4)
North Carolina: UVA 1-3 (0-6, 1-2, 2-3, 3-2); ECU 0-2 (3-5, 4-5)
Wake Forest: UVA 1-0 (13-1); ECU 1-0 (9-0)

Speaking of familiar opponents.  UVA is 5-1 against ECU in the past two seasons, sweeping last year's series in Greenville and then taking 2 of 3 this year.  The Pirates were the 3rd seed in the C-USA tournament, and their conference ultimately produced four tourney bids.

This is a strong team with a well-rounded lineup, and especially a good, well-rounded group of starting pitchers.  St. John's is taking a little bit of a risk, since they'll be outmatched on the mound with Mike Wright going for the Pirates on Friday.  This means that, again, should UVA face ECU on Saturday, we'll get their ace, in this case, Seth Maness.

However, our pitchers were able to keep ECU well in check in the early-season series.  A Hultzen-Maness matchup would be the second of the year; Hultzen blew Maness away in the first, striking out 15 ECU batters in seven innings.  Maness only lasted 3 1/3 and gave up nine runs.  By throwing Wright on Friday, they're using the one pitcher who truly shut down UVA's batters - one of only nine to earn a win against the Hoos.  The difference in that game was one bad inning by Cody Winiarski, who was otherwise solid.  If UVA sees ECU on Saturday, it'll be Hultzen, but Winiarski might be the guy on Monday if necessary.

Don't look for any weak spots in the Pirate lineup.  The guy with the lowest average is also the guy with 13 home runs.  Zach Wright is kind of a classic free-swinger, with nearly as many strikeouts as hits, but don't let him get a hold of one.  This is a lineup without a definite stand-out hitter, but partly that's because there are no easy outs at all and several players who'd be stars elsewhere.

Prediction for the weekend:

Well, for starters, we'd better beat Navy.  That's a prediction.  I think ECU will beat St. John's in the nightcap, giving us the Hultzen-Maness rematch.  And you never feel like we'll lose with RoboDanny on the mound.  If I were St. John's in that situation, I'd hold Kyle Hansen back one more day and hope my 3rd pitcher can beat Navy, and then with Hansen on the mound on Sunday against ECU, it turns into a tossup.  If all goes well UVA will await that game's winner with Tyler Wilson against whoever they can scrape.

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One of the happy problems about winning a national title is the general inadequacy of anything you write about it.  It's a terrifically awesome thing, but words are not terrifically awesome things except in the hands of the true-greats, so there's a disconnect.  (Sure, you can get on a message board and write WAHOOWA!!!!!!  CHAMPIONS WOOO!!! FHOGSIRFGSSDOYVCXEHG!!!!! but does that do anything for your desire to chug a celebratory pitcher of beer?)

Anyway, I thought this did a very nice job of bridging the gap a little.  It's part sap and part advertising executive, but don't worry it's not a diamond ad.  It's a great way to hold up UVA (specifically, it's outstanding lacrosse team) as examples worth following.  The ultimate positive story to erase all the bad ones of the past 12+ months.

1 comment:

Erik said...

Steele Stanwick wins the Tewaaraton Trophy!!