So approaches one of the best weekends of the year. It's hard to top Thanksgiving weekend, and the first two rounds of the basketball tournament make a strong case too, but this one has a few huge advantages over the basketball one:
-- Better weather
-- More games
-- UVA always gets to host
I guess not always, but this is, what, like, the fifth year in a row? It's cool if you lost count. The last time UVA didn't was 2009, which itself was considered a down year or would have been if it didn't put figurative banners on the outfield fences.
UVA drew a revenge tour of sorts, with Arkansas coming to Charlottesville as a regional 2 seed and South Carolina in the opposite regional. The Arkansas loss was a while ago - yup, 2009 - and it still stirred the pot on the Sabre boards when some asshole of a Tigers fan pointed out that Drew Smyly was pitching for the Tigers opposite Sean Doolittle, in last years ALDS. (Who on earth would do that, I wonder.) And if South Carolina doesn't make it out of their region, the two seed is Maryland.
Here's what the Hoos face at Davenport this fine season:
Record: 38-23 (16-14)
C: Alex Gosser (.273-0-2)
1B: Eric Fisher (.265-9-43)
2B: Brian Anderson (.311-6-49)
3B: Bobby Wernes (.225-0-17)
SS: Michael Bernal (.251-2-18)
LF: Joe Serrano (.299-0-21)
CF: Andrew Benintendi (.282-1-26)
RF: Tyler Spoon (.258-3-36)
DH: Clark Eagan (.311-2-11)
-- DH Eagan, a lefty hitter, platoons with the right-handed Krisjon Wilkerson (.255-1-11.)
-- Gosser is a very-late-season replacement for Arkansas's top two catchers, Jake Wise and Blake Baxendale. Wise is the regular catcher but suffered a concussion a few weeks ago, and Baxendale hurt his hamstring. Gosser was supposed to be redshirting this year but was forced into action just before the SEC tournament. It's possible Wise gets back into the game this weekend; he's an utterly horrendous hitter but also a senior at a position where Arkansas otherwise has only freshmen.
RHP Chris Oliver (8-4, 2.45, 55 Ks)
RHP Trey Killian (4-8, 2.18, 61 Ks)
LHP Colin Poche (3-1, 3.00, 28 Ks)
RHP Alex Phillips (3-0, 3.52, 17Ks)
LHP Michael Gunn (4-2, 0.84, 31 Ks, 7 saves)
RHP Jacob Stone (4-0, 0.99, 29 Ks)
RHP Zach Jackson (2-2, 1.80, 39 Ks)
LHP Jalen Beeks (5-4, 2.11, 59 Ks)
RHP Jackson Lowery (1-1, 4.55, 30 Ks)
RHP Dominic Taccolini (2-0, 5.81, 16 Ks)
No doubt about it: Arkansas is a team a lot like ours. Great pitching, good solid fielding, questionable bats. More questionable than our own, actually, accounting for their middling record in-conference and their ace's poor win total. Not many bats that you worry about hurting you.
The top name in that regard is 2B Brian Anderson, who brings a very good combination of skills to the plate that has the big leagues reasonably interested. He can hit for power and average and has decent speed as well. 1B Eric Fisher is more of a boom or bust hitter, with more strikeouts than Anderson and a middling average, but nearly as many total bases. Other names of some note: CF Andrew Benintendi has 15 SBs in 19 attempts and possesses six more walks than strikeouts (24 to 18); RF Tyler Spoon is only batting .258 but has some pop when he connects, and hasn't made an error all season.
It's the Razorback pitching staff that will carry them, though. Arkansas will use Saturday pitcher Chris Oliver against Liberty, so, if they're UVA's Saturday opponent, the Hoos will almost certainly face sophomore ace Trey Killian. Killian isn't an overpowering strikeout pitcher, but he does get his share; he has excellent control and pitches deep into games, averaging 7 innings a start and turning in four CGs this year.
Arkansas also has a very deep bullpen; their top three options (Gunn, Stone, and Jackson) have opponent BAs of .177 or less. They may add former starter Jalen Beeks there; Beeks held down Sundays for the Razorbacks this year but ran into elbow troubles, scratching him from the rotation and shutting him down the past three weeks. If he returns it's expected to be in the pen, thinning out the rotation slightly should Arkansas require four or five games. Colin Poche and Alex Phillips have mainly been weekday starters until Beeks's injury. Arkansas also tried Dominic Taccolini as a starter near the end of the season, but he got knocked around some.
If UVA plays Arkansas on Saturday, expect a low-scoring affair, obviously. It's the kind of game that's the reason why Brian O'Connor wants his team to be able to bunt. Nathan Kirby will pitch for UVA on Saturday, most likely, and Kirby vs. Killian would be a heck of a matchup.
Conference: Big South
Record: 41-16 (23-3)
C: Danny Grauer (.262-7-40)
1B: Alex Close (.324-8-45)
2B: Ryan Seiz (.362-12-42)
3B: Dylan Allen (.258-0-15)
SS: Dalton Britt (.300-0-34)
LF: Nick Lacik (.234-0-20)
CF: Ashton Perritt (.273-2-23)
RF: Will Shepherd (.281-1-23)
DH: Becker Sankey (.222-2-26)
-- It's a pretty consistent lineup, the only interloper being OF Andrew Yacyk (.250-4-18) who, when he starts, is generally in left field but can also play right field and first base.
RHP Trey Lambert (11-2, 2.10, 66 Ks)
RHP Parker Bean (7-2, 2.71, 77 Ks)
LHP Blake Fulghum (4-3, 3.16, 40 Ks)
LHP Jared Lyons (2-4, 3.29, 55 Ks)
RHP Ashton Perritt (1-2, 1.58, 22 Ks, 12 saves)
LHP Shawn Clowers (9-0, 0.89, 46 Ks)
RHP Matt Marsh (2-0, 0.54, 41 Ks)
Any hope Liberty had of hosting a regional disappeared for good when they couldn't make it through the conference tournament, and the Big South became a two-bid league but Liberty likely dropped at least one regional seed. This team is still a tough out, though, and ought to provide a good test for Arkansas in the Friday evening game.
You always have to account for mid-major quality of play when looking at mid-major statistics, but it's a little amazing Louisville couldn't find a place for Ryan Seiz, who transferred to Liberty after not being able to get on the field much in two seasons for the Cardinals. (Then again, Louisville is also hosting a regional, so it's not like they have an unfillable hole in their lineup.) Seiz is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy (baseball's Heisman) because he's a fearsome hitter, slugging .612 on the season with 12 homers and 16 doubles.
Liberty also has plenty of power residing in Alex Close (8 HRs) and Danny Grauer (7 HRs.) Close and Seiz form the heart of the lineup. Based on the competition level it's probably a safe bet that lesser-hitting players such as Becker Sankey really aren't much of a threat, or that Andrew Yacyk's tendency to swing at every damn pitch will carry over (2 walks, 25 Ks) but overall this still might be a better lineup than Arkansas's; they'll have probably the best two hitters on the field.
The Flames also have a pretty solid pitching staff. Trey Lambert has been tabbed the starter against Arkansas, meaning UVA would probably face the freshman, Parker Bean. Bean has pitched well; he doesn't go nearly as deep into the game as Lambert, but misses quite a few more bats. Should UVA meet Liberty later on, the pitcher may be senior lefty Blake Fulghum, who's made it through with decent numbers despite being pretty hittable. The bullpen has some excellent players but is short on depth. Closer Ashton Perritt (who doubles as the Flames' regular center fielder), plus lefty Shawn Clowers and righty long reliever Matt Marsh, have combined to allow 12 ER in over 113 innings of work. Beyond that, nobody's tossed more than 12 innings this season.
Some might complain that Liberty is too good of a regional 3 seed for the national 3 seed to have in their bracket, but partly this is due to geography (quite a bit, really) and then also, the better 1 seeds are supposed to have good 3 seeds if you follow the S-curve. Liberty would be a tough out in the second game, but then, Arkansas will find them a tough out first. It's interesting that this is the second year in a row where the 3 seed has brought a big mashing infielder to Charlottesville (Elon had Ryan Kinsella last year, he of the 20-homer season) and this Liberty-Arkansas game is precisely the advantage handed to the 1 seed. Someone gotta lose, and if all goes well those two will get nice and familiar with each other.
Record: 30-19 (15-5)
C: Justin Meier (.158-0-10)
1B: Rob Krentzman (.250-1-20)
2B: Joe Ogren (.324-0-28)
3B: Sam Clark (.223-0-15)
SS: Greg Wasikowski (.196-0-6)
LF: Danny Rafferty (.256-0-9)
CF: Brett Smith (.303-0-15)
RF: Anthony Gingerelli (.312-5-27)
DH: Jon Mayer (.229-2-23)
-- Those numbers above ought to convey how much Bucknell misses outfielder Corey Furman; he was hitting .388 before an injury ended his season, and he still leads the team in triples with five.
-- There's a lot of interchangeability there; Ogren could play the outfield as well as 2B, in which case Alex O'Neill (.217-0-9) would play second. Either Mayer or Meier will catch. Bucknell's other options at DH aren't any better, though.
RHP Bryson Hough (8-3, 4.37, 43 Ks)
LHP Dan Weigel (7-5, 2.94, 46 Ks)
RHP Andrew Andreychik (5-4, 3.56, 46 Ks)
RHP Tucker Rekucki (0-1, 3.60, 18 Ks, 6 saves)
LHP Xavier Hammond (3-5, 3.34, 44 Ks)
RHP Max Kra (3-0, 3.19, 16 Ks)
LHP Mike Castellani (3-0, 1.61, 19 Ks)
RHP Tom Hrabchak (1-0, 1.57, 11 Ks)
I should've realized this game was coming; the last time the Patriot League champ wasn't UVA's Friday opponent in Charlottesville was 2010. In fact, of all the regionals played in Charlottesville in the BOC era (which is also all the regionals UVA's ever hosted) only 2004 and 2010 brought in someone other than the PL champ as the 4 seed. Bucknell is a relatively familiar opponent, too; UVA's hosted them for weekend series occasionally in the recent past, including 2009 and 2013.
They might also be the weakest PL champ we've faced in recent memory. Army last year had Chris Rowley to throw at us, who was able to keep the game close. Bucknell has no such ace pitcher. UVA is expected to face the righty, Bryson Hough. They also have an anemic lineup. There are three .300 hitters in it, which is more than Arkansas can say, but, Patriot League pitching. And (leaving out Corey Furman) the gap between the third-best hitter (Brett Smith, .303) and the fourth-best (Danny Rafferty, .256) is huge.
UVA will send Artie Lewicki to the mound against Bucknell; Lewicki, since coming back from arm trouble, has breezed past weekday opponents and recorded a 1.99 ERA. This is the same level of competition, if not worse. I suspect BOC sees this as sending his third-best pitcher out, which is a terrific luxury; even teams that subscribe to the second-day-ace theory (which is many of them) usually put their Saturday guy on the hill to start things off. We're casually tossing our weekday guy.
In the big picture, Bucknell is an extremely winnable game, but, it's also absolutely necessary to win, because you don't want to get into a loser's bracket with Arkansas or Liberty, both of whom represent a slightly higher degree of difficulty than the national three seed ought to have earned. I don't expect much trouble on Friday though. If UVA is going to lose this regional, it'll happen by losing on Saturday and then failing to claw back. If (presumably) Kirby gets enough run support on Saturday, though, Brandon Waddell is better than anyone the other three teams can toss out there against us on Sunday. I don't have a preference between the 2 and 3 seeds, and therefore no Friday evening rooting interest except for the obvious 50-inning game that finishes up with a 24-23 win for someone. I just hope against hope, as does everyone, that the bats pick this weekend to break out of hibernation.