Monday, June 30, 2014

the recruit: Juan Thornhill

Name: Juan Thornhill
Position: S
Hometown: Altavista
School: Altavista
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 175

24/7: 88, three stars; #51 ATH, VA #21
ESPN: 73, three stars; #73 S, VA #30, East #152
Rivals: 5.7, three stars; #21 S, VA #15
Scout: three stars

Other offers: None

I guess it's the offseason now, and what that means is: football is up next.  And that means it's time to get on with introducing the recruiting class of 2015.  Might as well get one thing out of the way right off the bat: We can't say with any certainty at all that this crop will ever play for Mike London and staff.  No projection I can make could ever take into account what happens if the ax falls - in fact, it's a near-certainty I'll profile an eventual decommit - so let's just keep that in mind every time there's a new recruit profile, and never speak of it again.  At least in this context.

In this case at least, the commitment is likely to stick.  Juan Thornhill is a self-professed UVa fan, an especially interesting tidbit in light of the fact that he hails from a part of the state that's widely considered VT country.  It's very rare for UVa to find a recruit from any point in Virginia west of Charlottesville - you can count them on one hand going back to 2006, like so: Thornhill, Michael Biesemier, Mike Rocco, Alex Owah, B.J. Cabbell.  And Owah didn't exactly stick so you can go back another year to find a few guys from that region in the '05 class, notably Chris Cook.

Thornhill and Altavista play in the VHSL's lowest division, 1A - small schools playing other small schools.  He's easily the best athlete in that division, having been named not only the Defensive POY in football, but the basketball POY too.  As such, he naturally plays quarterback as well as various defensive positions for his team, and piles up stats with ease.  Thornhill led Altavista to state championships in both football and hoops this year; for schools of that size, he's a once in a generation player.

He didn't wait around for any other offers to come his way, though; he committed to UVa last November, the same day he got his offer from London.  A guy who's the biggest fish in his pond who doesn't wait for any other offers is one committed player.  That just leaves the question of - how good is he really?

Well, there's a bit of a range of opinions.  Scout pretty much mailed in their evaluation, as they tend to do for UVa's early commits, but ESPN isn't high on him.  They like his instincts as a defender but are real lukewarm on his athleticism and build.  Actually even that's pretty encouraging, because safeties don't have to be wildly athletic to be effective.  (It helps, but it's not essential.)  Rivals and 24/7 have him in the top 20 players in the state, though, and while 24/7 is starting to show a pattern of being fairly generous with their stars, earning a high-three-star from Rivals is worth a look.  We'll probably never know how other schools might have viewed him unless some of them start sniffing around in the event of a coaching change, but Thornhill doesn't seem like the type to entertain those efforts, and we'll likely never hear.  I'd guess VT eventually would've offered, possibly Maryland and WVU as well, and some of the North Carolina schools.

It's still up in the air what position Thornhill would play, but safety has always seemed the most likely.  At 175 pounds he'll definitely want to put on some weight, but it shouldn't surprise if he's more like 185-190 this time next year - that was measured in the middle of his junior year in high school, after all.  And when the most critical ranker still likes your instincts and ability to see the field, it's another point in favor of a position that demands those skills.  (Thornhill is a point guard on the hardwood, so.)

Assuming safety is the path, the depth chart looks kind of jammed at first blush (you know how I harp on that) but there's still opportunity.  Quin Blanding will not be redshirting, so if Thornhill does, there won't be any players in the class in between them.  Two starters will be seniors this year, and other than Blanding (who'll be given every opportunity) and Kelvin Rainey (who started showing some promise in 2013 as a redshirt freshman) the rest of the depth chart is full of unknown quantities and some guys whose chance has largely passed them by.  Rainey and Wil Wahee will graduate after Thornhill's redshirt freshman season (or sophomore season, but I hope not that) and so the path should be clear for Thornhill to be a three-year contributor, if managed properly.

Friday, June 27, 2014

FOV Cavalier of the Year #7/#8

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.  

Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines.  Today's athletes: Elly Buckley and Alex Domijan.

Elly Buckley - Field hockey - Forward

Team accomplishments:

-- NCAA tournament
-- Ranked #4 midseason

Personal accomplishments:

-- Fourth all-American recognition
-- Fourth all-ACC recognition
-- Two-time ACC Player of the Week
-- NFHCA all-South
-- VaSID Player of the Year

When Paige Selenski graduated, UVa's field hockey team had a huge void to fill.  It wasn't a real big mystery who would do the job, though.  Elly Buckley has spent her last three years playing Scottie Pippen.  You can't really say she played in Selenski's shadow, long though that shadow may have been; this year Buckley became the fourth player in UVa history to be a four-time all-American.  Clearly people have been taking notice, throughout her career.

Interestingly, the conference has 13 players in its history that've been four-time all-Americans, but only 11 that've been four-time all-ACC; Buckley is on both lists.  She was an easy choice, having led the conference in goals, and, I didn't even know they kept track of this stuff for players other than goalies, but, defensive saves as well.  Truly an all-around star; Buckley was everything to the UVa field hockey team this year.

Alex Domijan - Men's tennis - #1 singles/doubles

Team accomplishments:

-- ACC champions
-- NCAA semifinals
-- Set ACC all-sport record for consecutive conference wins

Personal accomplishments:

-- ACC Player of the Year
-- VaSID Player of the Year
-- ITA Atlantic Region Senior Player of the Year
-- ITA/Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award
-- 6th seed in NCAA individual singles tournament

Another sport, another best player in the ACC for UVa.  We are getting so embarrassingly full of them that it almost seems like generosity to have let someone else win it in football.  There's no such magnanimity in men's tennis, though - on their way to their 8th straight ACC championship, the UVa men's tennis team became the most dominant team of any kind in ACC history.  They finished the season with their consecutive win streak over ACC competition at 122.

Alex Domijan finished his own season with a dominant 26-3 mark in singles play, and 22-4 in doubles; he was ranked #9 in the country after the year wrapped up.  He pulled in multiple POY recognitions, and that Sportsmanship Award is for "sportsmanship, character, excellent academics and outstanding tennis playing accomplishments."  Domijan is following in the footsteps of giants here; Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh also won that award.  He's clearly proven himself a worthy heir to the legacy of past UVa tennis stars.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

underneath a rock

That's where this comes to you from, if I had my way about it.  This will probably be short, which you don't deserve after two days of radio silence caused by me hanging on to the CWS finals and neurotically pausing the DVR for like 30 minutes at a time, racing forward, racing backward, and generally watching the games in a way totally unenvisioned by live TV viewers of 15 years ago.

It'll be short because I've never wanted to write anything less in my life**, and because my usual style is useless here.  Simply put, I haven't been so stung by a loss since the '09 Stanley Cup Finals, and that one sapped all hockey interest from me for months.  It lasted almost to the next year's playoffs.

It's the knowledge that it is incredibly damn hard to get back to this spot.  That's what haunted me then and that's what haunts me now.  And this: this was a team that absolutely deserved to win a national championship.  So much resilience, so many gritty performances, gone to waste for the want of any one of a thousand things that all went the wrong way.  And that's stinger #3 - knowing that UVa played so well that you could literally change just one event in either of two games and today would be a celebration.

Fact is, UVa generated five times the opportunities that Vanderbilt did.  And Vanderbilt cashed in on 100% of the chances they had, which makes all the difference when you only convert about 25% of your own - and makes it sting knowing you could've won by converting 26%.

Everybody hates hearing the losers say, "the better team lost," and especially anything about the officiating, but it's just so damn hard not to sometimes.  All it took to lose this series was one inning from hell, two rinky-dink garbage runs, and a well-timed towering blast.  Win 3/4 of the battles, lose the war.

And, by the way, no help from the umpires.  When you complain about the umpires, people usually jump in and say, "that's not why we lost," proceed to lament missed opportunities, and the argument goes on as if the two positions are mutually exclusive.  They're not.  Yes, not scoring on uncountable RISP opportunities is pretty much the reason for all this - that doesn't make the umpires suddenly good.  I don't have the stomach or patience for this kind of exercise - at least not right now - but it wouldn't be hard to put together a video of the apparently octopus-shaped strike zone from home plate blue last night.  Josh Sborz left after one inning in large part because he didn't get the shin-high, three-foot-wide strike zone that Carson Fulmer did.  And then the zone got even less consistent as time went on.  Did you notice ESPN's "K Zone" at all from about the 6th inning onward?  You did not.  And - I'm aware of the "transfer rule" but that was one of the most egregiously bad applications of it that ever existed.  Had Derek Fisher been called safe - well, you always have to be careful about declaring what would've happened afterwards, because then some coach or pitcher or someone would've made a different decision.  But the sequence that followed - a balk and a hit - at least makes it more likely that you can say it made a difference.  The announcers were unanimous in calling that a huge break.

I know we'll have most of this pitching staff back next year, but seriously - it's gonna take a little while before I care.  This team is the one that got away.  There's only one thing that can fix this - you know what that is, but it's a fan luxury to just be able to reset every year and hope for it.  There's a few pro careers beginning soon for guys that missed their one chance.

**Though I've also rarely felt so obligated.

Monday, June 23, 2014

FOV Cavalier of the Year #5/#6

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.  

Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines.  Today's athletes: Nick Sulzer and Morgan Brian.

Nick Sulzer - Wrestling - 165 lbs.

Team accomplishments:

-- 3rd at ACC championships
-- Tied for 23rd at NCAA championships
-- First-ever Virginia Duals championship

Personal accomplishments:

-- ACC champion at 165 lbs.
-- National 4th place at 165 lbs.
-- 165 lb. champion at Las Vegas Invitational
-- 165 lb. 3rd place at Southern Scuffle
-- Second all-time UVa wrestler to earn multiple all-American recognitions
-- One-time ACC Wrestler of the Week
-- NWCA All-Academic team

Like volleyball, only a little further into the process, wrestling is a team we've had the pleasure of watching rise from obscurity to contention and a place on the national scene.  Chris Henrich put UVa wrestling on the map with an ACC championship, and now we're into the second generation, if you will.  Nick Sulzer is the one leading the way.

Not that there aren't other quality wrestlers on the team - Sulzer's wasn't the only individual ACC title - but no UVa wrestler this year finished anywhere near as high as Sulzer at NCAAs.  Of UVa's 18.5 points, Sulzer's 4th-place finish earned 13.5 of them.  Various other championships and invitationals established Sulzer as one of the top wrestlers in his weight class in the country.  4th in the country and tops in the ACC - that's an easy call for a nomination, and if that don't suit you and you want more, there's that all-academic recognition too.  Exactly what we love to see out of our top student-athletes.

Morgan Brian - Women's soccer - Midfielder

Team accomplishments:

-- ACC champions
-- Reached NCAA College Cup (that is, Final Four)

Personal accomplishments:

-- MAC Herrmann Trophy winner
-- NSCAA all-American
-- VaSID Player of the Year
-- Finalist for U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year
-- Top Drawer Soccer and Soccer America Women's Player of the Year
-- First-team all-ACC
-- NCAA all-tournament team
-- ACC all-tournament team
-- IMP Award as UVa's top female athlete
-- ACC scoring leader
-- Tied UVa single-season record for assists
-- 11 caps and two goals with USWNT
-- ACC all-academic team

Danielle Collins got a lot of rightly deserved pub in the comments section when I first announced the nominees, and I don't want to take one single thing away from her national title.  But - the MAC Herrmann Trophy is soccer's Heisman, and that's kind of like a national championship too, right?  Morgan Brian becomes the first female soccer player at UVa to win that award, joining really illustrious company on the men's side like Tony Meola and Claudio Reyna.  Her win also makes UVa only the third school to have both men and women winners of the trophy.

When you're the best damn college player in the country - pretty much unanimously, really - further accolades come like a waterfall.  There are some I didn't even bother with, like all-region recognition that was sort of implied by all-American recognition.  Brian already has her eye on bigger things - she's become a fixture on the USWNT, and not the U-23 squad even though she's only 21, but the varsity, the real deal.  She's the youngest player currently on the team and has started all 8 games she's appeared in during 2014, after making her debut last summer.  This is a gal from whom we should expect big, big things when she eventually graduates - and still she's only a rising senior.  I don't know who I'm going to vote for, and I don't reveal my vote til the winner is announced anyway, but damn if I wouldn't find it hard to vote against Morgan Brian.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

series preview: Vanderbilt

Date/Time: Mon-Wed, June 23-25; all games 8:00
(Wednesday game if necessary)

TV: All games on ESPN

Record against the Dores: 0-2

Last meeting: Vandy 7, UVa 3; 6/6/04, Charlottesville (NCAA Regional)

Last game: UVa 4, Ole Miss 1 (6/21); Vandy 4, UT 3 (6/21)

Pitching probables:

LHP Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.70, 108 Ks) vs. RHP Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.80, 112 Ks)

LHP Brandon Waddell (9-3, 2.57, 68 Ks) vs. RHP Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.27, 109 Ks)

(Again, these are guesses, at least for the Vandy side, based partly on a little by-the-book guesswork and partly on what Vandy fans think.  No doubt whatsoever who'll go for UVa, really.  As for Wednesday, I'm just not gonna try, especially on our side.  I suspect Josh Sborz was pulled earlyish from the Saturday game at least partly with an eye on having him ready for Wednesday.  Besides, if there's a game Wednesday it's literally the ultimate in do-or-die games, and Johnny Wholestaff will be at the ready.)

At this point in a season, there's nothing left to be said, but you know me, I'm gonna say it anyway.  (It's not like anyone else shuts their flaps.)  This is an interesting matchup, and one of my favorite kinds: someone is going home with their first-ever national title.  (In this sport.)  Neither team has ever even made the finals.  Vanderbilt takes it even further: they don't quite have the full VT goose egg, but their lone national title is a women's bowling championship in 2007.  This is really their chance to win a championship in front of an audience.  If it had been Texas, UVa would no doubt be the national rooting interest.

On the other hand, UVa is carrying the flag for the ACC, which, as we'll be reminded dozens of times in the next couple days, hasn't won a baseball title since 1955, nor even does the conference regularly place someone in the finals.  People wanting to see the SEC fall on their faces - and that's a long list of folks - will still be pulling for the Hoos.

Vandy's road here had just a couple bumps in it; Texas staved off elimination at the end of the double-elimination round of the CWS, and Stanford scraped a 5-4 win over the Commodores in the super-regionals.  Vandy, however, has never faced a national seed along the way; none of them on that side of the bracket made it to Omaha, and Stanford had beaten 4-seeded Indiana to get to the supers.  In fact, other than Louisville, whom Vanderbilt beat in their CWS opener, the Dores haven't even faced a regional 1 seed.  UVa, on the other hand, was spared South Carolina but had to go through Ole Miss twice, plus national 7 seed TCU, to get here.  It puts UVa's pitching dominance in solid perspective.

Ordinarily I talk about the stakes here, but, um, if you need to be told that then I can't help you.  It's scouting report time.

-- First base: Zander Wiel (.270-5-43).  Cleanup hitter even through mid-postseason lineup shuffle.  Solid tools all around - decent power, speed, and glove.  Team leader in homers and second in triples; also has 30 walks.  Not a hugely fearsome hitter but a bat that must be respected.

-- Second base: Dansby Swanson (.337-3-34).  Leadoff hitter and perhaps the team's best batsman; team OPS leader at .898 and OBP leader at .413.  20 stolen bases in 25 attempts, both tops on a very, very aggressive Vanderbilt team.

-- Third base: Tyler Campbell (.217-0-3).  Likely to bat ninth; Campbell is a very late replacement for regular third baseman Xavier Turner (.284-2-38), who was declared ineligible (whether by Vandy or the NCAA isn't known) and sent home.  Turner was a reliable bat and an outstanding fielder; Campbell is a sophomore who's been a reserve all his career, and his glove is at best unknown.  He was hitting .132 coming into the Texas game where he was tossed into the fire, but went 2-for-3 on Friday and drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning on Saturday.

-- Shortstop: Vince Conde (.294-4-48).  #3 hitter; tough out with more walks (40) than K's (37). Tremendous fielder at .984 FP with only four errors all season.  9th-round pick of the Yankees this year.

-- Left field: Bryan Reynolds (.341-4-53).  #2 hitter.  Among the best hitters in the Vandy lineup along with Swanson and Conde.  Team leader in BA, RBI, hits, and second in doubles.  Switch hitter and one of the top freshmen in the SEC.

-- Center field: John Norwood (.288-2-29).  Had been batting 6th or 7th; moved up to 5th with the loss of Turner from the lineup.  Junior who just moved into the starting lineup this year and therefore went undrafted.  Hits for some contact, but not a great deal of power, and strikes out often.

-- Right field: Rhett Wiseman (.283-0-29).  Bats sixth.  Has decent line-drive power and leads the team in triples, but is only one of two of the eight regular position players (including Turner, not Campbell) not to have hit a home run.  Also lowest OBP (.352) of the eight.

-- Catcher: Jason Delay (.257-0-13).  Will probably bat 7th or 8th.  Relatively light-hitting freshman.  Has nine doubles out of only 28 hits, but whiffs with great frequency.  Occasionally gives way to fellow freshman Karl Ellison (.203-0-9), an even lighter-hitting player than Delay.

-- Designated hitter: Nolan Rogers (.204-0-14).  The DH spot will be 7th or 8th unless Campbell is rewarded for his play against UT with a move up from ninth.  Vandy doesn't have much in the way of options here.  Rogers is a freshman who hasn't hit much all year.  He's a lefty, so Vandy may opt for the switch-hitting Ro Coleman (.214-1-13) instead, against UVa's lefty starters.  Vanderbilt's coach Tim Corbin likes to start a pitcher in the DH slot and then pinch-hit for him in the first at-bat; why he does this, I can't figure out.  Perhaps to remove the temptation of using that pitcher in the game, as it's often the previous game's pitcher.

-- Pitching staff:

RHP Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.80, 112 Ks).  Beede has great stuff and three plus pitches, which got him drafted 14th overall by the Giants this spring.  However, control issues have dogged him throughout his career.  Vandy fans speak of their hope that "Good Beede" shows up on the mound.  His Irvine appearance might have been every one of his outings wrapped into one; he went 3.2 innings, struck out four, walked three, and threw two wild pitches.  His talent is undeniable, as he's one of only 18 players in MLB Draft history to be taken in the first round of two different drafts.  Vandy might be in trouble, though, if Beede doesn't bring any control to the mound.

RHP Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.27, 109 Ks).  Buehler is a lanky right-hander with a fastball that's not quite "blazing", but close, and a really sharp slider.  He turned down the Pittsburgh Pirates as a 14th-round pick out of high school to go to Vandy.  Purely from a stats standpoint, Buehler is the best of the staff; he has 2 complete games, a 3.5/1 K/BB ratio, and a .218 OpBA.  In his previous CWS appearance, he came on in relief of Tyler Beede after Beede got in trouble against UC-Irvine, and pitched 5.1 innings of no-hit ball against the Anteaters while the Vandy bats repaired the damage Irvine had caused.  Buehler had needed rescuing himself in the supers, though, as a troublesome third inning against Stanford knocked him out of the game and nearly erased the 5-run lead he'd been staked to.  He's not totally unhittable, but he does represent a challenge for the UVa hitters.

RHP Tyler Ferguson (8-4, 2.72, 63 Ks).  If the series goes to Wednesday, and if things go according to plan for Vandy, Ferguson might be the starter for the Commodores.  Circumstances always seem to get in the way, so that's no guarantee, but that's how things might go.  Ferguson is another power pitcher and talented enough that Aaron Fitt called him a potential first-rounder next year, but his only CWS appearance was a mess.  He plunked the Texas leadoff hitter with his first pitch of the game, and proceeded to walk and plunk the bases loaded.  Texas ended up with two runs and Ferguson didn't survive the inning.  Ferguson would be fresh and available out of the pen should that become necessary, and it's probably a good thing if so - it would likely mean UVa has had success against the Vandy starter.

RHP Carson Fulmer (7-1, 2.00, 90 Ks).  Fulmer has been the closer most of the year, and a very effective one, but has been earning starts in the postseason.  Likely unavailable out of the pen on Monday and Tuesday after going 4 1/3 on Saturday night, Fulmer would be another candidate for a Wednesday start.  In this case he'd be going on awfully short rest and would likely be limited to four or so innings.  Is a pitcher in a similar mold as the others; power fastball, good slider.

-- Bullpen: Two more pitchers who are likely burned up for Monday and Tuesday are righties Brian Miller (1-1, 1.93, 37 Ks) and Hayden Stone (3-0, 1.76, 76 Ks).  Miller was the guy who relieved Ferguson against Texas, and threw the whole rest of the game - 7 1/3 innings, after averaging less than 1 1/3 per appearance on the season.  He's not likely to be available except perhaps in a Wednesday desperation situation.  Stone went 5 2/3 on Saturday night, and the same applies.

That leaves Vandy with limited options.  RHP Adam Ravenelle (3-2, 1.46, 35 Ks) is easily the #1 choice.  Ravenelle sports a .154 OpBA, and has good enough stuff that despite a limited history (largely due to some 2012 elbow trouble) he was a 4th-round pick of the bullpen-starved Tigers.  Other options may be southpaw Jared Miller (6-2, 4.20, 45 Ks), an 11th-round pick of the Diamondbacks despite crashing to earth somewhat as the season wore on; or fellow lefty John Kilichowski (0-0, 1.35, 20 Ks).  Neither has appeared in the CWS, though, and it's just as likely that if Vandy gets into trouble, they turn to a guy they'd hoped to start.

-- Synopsis: Vanderbilt's best chance is their starting pitching.  Beede and Buehler, when on, could be just as tough a nut to crack as UVa's starting two of Kirby and Waddell.  As well, the top of Vandy's lineup is no picnic.  Swanson and Reynolds are excellent hitters.

That said, the Vandy lineup is really no better than what Ole Miss sent to the plate, either, and it's not as deep, especially without Xavier Turner.  The bottom third is pretty weak and there's nothing off the bench.  UVa might not have Artie Lewicki available on Monday (even that isn't a guaranteed statement), but Vandy has fewer bullets in the chamber than UVa does, having used up a few of them in order to get here.

And there's something to be said for lights-out pitching.  Vandy has good arms - but they're trumped by the 0.55 ERA UVa's hurlers have produced in three CWS games.  This is an absolutely dialed-in bunch right now.  If they stay dialed-in, Vandy will lose two in a row.  They might be a close two in a row, but still.  Baseball is an anything-can-happen sport, but UVa should be seen as the favorite.


While I have the chance, a few bullets on yesterday's Ole Miss action:

-- Robbie Coman was deservedly named the player of the game by the announcers, which was really even more impressive given his awful early innings.  One passed ball - which, yes, basically led to Ole Miss's run - and one terrible at-bat had me muttering swear words to myself about how Coman needed to get his head in the game.  Once his brain was properly screwed in - really nice work.

-- I complain about crappy announcing, so I have to give credit when it's due - I thought the discussion they had about Joe McCarthy's bunt was as good an exchange as you get in baseball announcing, up there with the nuggets Bobby Knight dispenses about basketball.  On the one hand, yes, you want to improve your chances of scoring a run; on the other hand, maybe one of your best hitters can move the runner up just by letting him take his hacks.

For the record, I agree with the bunt in that situation.  Followers of sabermetrics hate sac bunts in almost any situation, but sabermetrics is nearly a context-free system.  When you're in a park that's tilting the game way, way in favor of the pitcher, and your own pitchers are just mowing them down, that extra run is a big deal.  With a runner on first and none out, and you bunt, you're saying that one run is more important than the chance for multiple runs.  I agree and would gladly improve my odds of scoring that one run, even at the expense of the second run, given the ballpark and the pitchers.  That run looms awfully large when you do score it.

-- So was that also part of Vengeance Tour '14?  Oh, absolutely.  You'll remember the 2007 regional, in which Oregon State got a weather reprieve and used the newly-rested pitchers to beat UVa twice in a row.  Mississippi got the same gift and couldn't cash in, even when they were able to pull a pitcher that UVa was absolutely tagging in favor of their ace.

And now the final round of the Tour begins: I'd long forgotten, if I even ever knew, that Vanderbilt was the team that booted UVa from the 2004 tournament.  So now Vengeance Tour '14 can come full circle, from the very first season of BOC.  Time to go win.....something.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

FOV Cavalier of the Year #3/#4

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.  

Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines.  Today's athletes: Joe Harris and Jasmine Burton.

Joe Harris - Men's basketball - Small forward

Team accomplishments:

-- ACC regular-season and tournament champions
-- NCAA tournament #1 seed
-- NCAA Sweet Sixteen

Personal accomplishments:

-- 2nd-team all-ACC (coaches)
-- 3rd-team all-ACC (media)
-- ACC Tournament MVP
-- USBWA District 3 team
-- NABC Good Works team
-- Lowe's Senior CLASS candidate
-- WINA Award (top UVa men's athlete)

This is theoretically my big chance to wax poetic about the career of a UVa basketball player who'll surely be remembered as one of the all-time greats, and here I am failing to find the words.  Maybe that's a compliment in and of itself.  True, now, Joe Harris didn't have quite the individual season he had as a junior, but you have to admit the team that he captained improved a little.

Harris finished his career 11th on UVa's all-time scoring list, comfortably between Curtis Staples and J.R. Reynolds, and his senior year was his second on various all-ACC lists.  He capped his individual achievements with an MVP plaque at the ACC tournament, which was no sop to his status as a team leader - he averaged 15.7 points during the tourney, three of which came as the coup de grace to Duke's comeback chances.

The athletic program itself then honored Harris as the school's top male athlete, which by itself makes a pretty good case for Harris's selection as COY as well.  There's a bit of a lifetime-achievement aspect to Harris's nomination here; from the time he decided to take a chance on traveling 3,000 miles to a school he'd never given a thought to until he stood atop the podium in Greensboro, Harris has had one of the most enjoyable-to-follow UVa careers of any that ever suited up.  But anyone who leads the charge in bringing a long, long-awaited ACC basketball championship back to UVa is a damn good candidate just on the strength of one fantastic weekend.  

Jasmine Burton - Volleyball - Outside hitter

Team accomplishments:

-- First ACC winning record since 2008

Personal accomplishments:

-- ACC Freshman of the Year
-- VaSID Freshman of the Year
-- 3rd team all-ACC
-- Two-time ACC Freshman of the Week

I think the number of words I've ever written about the volleyball team could fit on one sheet of paper, in big type.  No volleyball player has ever been nominated for FOV COY.  Time to change that.  This is a team on the rise, earning an 11-9 record in the ACC after spending a long time as a doormat.  A big part of that was a very good freshman class, which was led by Jasmine Burton.

ACC Freshman of the Year is a common award for an FOV COY nominee, but Burton, I think, rises a little higher than many such nominees.  She had competition for that award even on her own team, but she won it not just by being a good freshman player but by being one of the team's best, period.  Only two players on the roster of 18 started more matches, and Burton was third on the team in most major statistics.

The best accomplishment, though: helping to lead a UVa team back to relevancy.  If the point here is pride in the whole program, that doesn't leave room for any stragglers.  I'm pleased to see the volleyball team starting to make noise again, and hopefully Burton and her classmates build on that momentum for a few years.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


The new park in Omaha, I think somewhat purposefully, was built to encourage pitchers' duels.  Low-scoring games offer the best drama baseball has to offer, and that means ratings and so on.  So it came as a little bit of a surprise to me that 2012 and 2013 produced no walk-off wins in the College World Series.  The last walk-off win belongs to South Carolina, against, you'll probably remember, UVa.

Armed with that knowledge, I may have been incorrect when I said Vengeance Tour '14 would have to come to a quick end for UVa to do anything worth doing in Omaha.  Having been the victim of the last CWS walk-off, the Hoos appear bound and determine to wreak that emotional havoc upon all who get in their way.  They toyed with Ole Miss, leaving runner after runner stranded in scoring position just to give the one-hit Rebels a fighting chance; then, TCU fans no doubt thinking (not incorrectly) that they had a great shot by throwing their ace starter, shutdown closer, and best middle reliever, the Hoos yanked the rug out again.  No doubt this is all out of long-simmering rage over being booted out of the 13th inning the last time we saw this city.

Baseball becomes the second UVa team this year to reach heights it's never achieved, following in the footsteps of women's tennis.  The Hoos will finish no worse than tied for third in the CWS, as two more teams will be shown the door before UVa plays its next game.  This is not to focus on the negative, though; this team has positioned itself to play for the national championship, and has three more wins to the dogpile.  They've taken the best shots that two of the best teams in the country had to offer; they one-hit the best-hitting team in the tourney and outpitched the (supposedly) best-pitching team in it.  Perhaps it was no accident that UVa was the highest-seeded team in town.  The story of the underdog favorite is a hackneyed one, but it's still fun if it's your own boys.


-- TCU's Cody Jones got the lion's share of the highlights for his diving catch, and it was a really nice one, but clearly, Brandon Downes had the more important web gem.  Runners at the corners and one down for TCU could've been devastating.  Instead the threat was snuffed out.  And by the way, I don't actually disagree with the TCU baserunner's decision to try for third.  "Never make the first or third out at third base" is a maxim that also implies the second out is forgivable.  And I'm usually a fan of the idea of forcing the outfielder to make a really good throw.  Usually they can't.

-- Whit Mayberry's outing was vintage Whit Mayberry.  He doesn't have the stuff that Howard or Lewicki have, and he doesn't have the control that Waddell has, but Jeebus tap-dancing Christ on a cracker does that dude battle.  Branden Kline is the only guy in recent memory I can think of who brought that much of an "I don't care how but I'm'a get this mufka out" mindset to the mound.  Nobody's gonna get this analogy, but he reminds me a little bit of a right-handed Mike Maroth.  That's a compliment even though I just compared Mayberry to the last 20-game loser in the majors.  I think he could make a really good pitching coach once his pro career is over.

-- UVa actually has a little bit of an advantage that Vanderbilt - the other 2-0 team - does not have.  Both UVa and Vandy next play on Friday.  Irvine and Texas are playing tonight, and the winner will have a day of rest before playing Vandy.  All four elimination-game teams got a rest day before that game, but TCU and Ole Miss will have to play us the day after their game.  It goes without saying that we're looking for another marathon.

-- Baseball generates all kinds of really interesting facts.  UVa has now played in the two longest games in TD Ameritrade CWS history.  Nine whole innings were played without a run, spanning over three hours; the equivalent of a full scoreless game.  UVa didn't have a single runner in between the two that scored to bookend that stretch.  It was tied for the longest game in CWS history in any stadium.

-- Bring on the Friday rematch.  You know I'm gonna like our pitching depth against anything either the Rebs or Frogs will have.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

FOV Cavalier of the Year #1/#2

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here

Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines.  Today's athletes: Kevin Parks and Danielle Collins.

Kevin Parks - Football - Running back

Team accomplishments:

-- let's just skip this part

Personal accomplishments:

-- Consensus all-ACC selection (media, coaches, Phil Steele, Athlon
-- VaSID all-state
-- First UVA player with 1,000 rushing yards since 2004
-- 2nd in ACC in rushing yards

I'll tell you right off, I debated myself over and over about whether the football representative should be Parks or Ant Harris.  Harris was first-team-everything and even an all-American to some, on the strength of his eight interceptions.  That is an astounding stat.  And the fact that a 2-10 team can have two strong candidates for this is equally astounding.  I have, in the past, omitted football from the nomination list on the grounds of not having any deserving candidates, so it's not like I have to have one.

I picked Parks for two reasons.  One, the 1,000 yards (to say nothing of 329 receiving yards) is a season-long grind; eight picks is rare and really hard to do, and not to minimize the accomplishment, but it's eight bolts of lightning.  If Harris had had four, he'd never have had all those accolades, so in a way, he's there because of four plays.  Parks was just simply excellent all season long.  And two, sometimes the nomination is a lifetime-achievement thing.  It's worth highlighting that not only did Parks provide a season-long bright spot in a dark and dismal season, but he's been building up to that for a while.  He might've hit the 1,000-yard mark in an earlier season if he weren't splitting carries in the past, and remember: Parks set national records as a high-schooler: most 100-yard games, most carries, and third-most yards.  Old Spice - why Old Spice, I don't know, but Old Spice - named him the national player of the year as a senior.

So if I couldn't call him a COY nominee then, I'll do it now, on the occasion of breaking a 10-year-old drought.  Parks has proven himself a workhorse and a leader - he's a team captain - and pretty much exemplifies the attitude you want out of the guys (and gals) representing the school.

Danielle Collins - Women's tennis - No.2 singles

Team accomplishments:

-- ACC champions
-- Reached NCAA quarterfinals

Personal accomplishments:

-- National singles champion
-- All-American (obviously)
-- All-ACC
-- ITA Atlantic Region Player to Watch
-- ITA Atlantic Region singles champion
-- Two-time ACC Player of the Week

Maybe we're not a lacrosse or basketball or baseball school.  Maybe we're a tennis school.  The men have had an outstanding team for a while now, but the women are starting to catch up.  Remember, it took a little while for the team to land its first team national title, but had some individual champions before then.  Here come the women, following that path.

It's hard to argue with a ring, to be honest, and Danielle Collins has one now.  She's only a sophomore, too - though a first-year Hoo, having transferred in from Florida this year.  Unofficially, I think this is the first time I've had a nominee in their first year after transferring in.  Collins actually played mostly #2 singles for the year, not #1, and Julie Elbaba did advance far enough to be an all-American herself, but, y'know, ring.  There's quite an assortment of other accolades, too, as Collins had a really good indoor season as well.  But when you start talking national championships, it starts to overshadow everything else you - and perhaps the other candidates - have done.

game preview: TCU

Date/Time: Tuesday, June 17; 8:00


Record against the Frogs: 0-0

Last meeting: None

Last game: UVA 2, Ole Miss 1; TCU 3, TTU 2

Pitching probables:

LHP Brandon Waddell (9-3, 2.66, 63 Ks) vs LHP Brandon Finnegan (9-3, 2.12, 129 Ks)

Believe it or not, there were some firsts that got achieved on Sunday night.  UVA had never beaten a team from outside of the state of California in the CWS, for example, and until Sunday was 0-4 in Omaha against the SEC as well.  (In fact, Tuesday will be UVA's first CWS game against someone other than the SEC or California.  This is less surprising than it sounds, when you think about it.)

The Hoos are carrying the flag for the ACC this year, and Tuesday's meeting will feature the only two national seeds to make it to Omaha.  So there's a lot riding on it, besides the usual meaning of game 2 of a double-elimination tourney.

TCU's recent history is awfully similar to UVA's, actually: also-ran status at best until they hired their current coach in 2004, who suddenly started winning confernence tournaments and hosting regionals.  The Froggies are in their second-ever CWS, their first trip being in 2010.  They're this year's Big 12 champs, and have lost one game in the whole postseason so far, stretching from the Big 12 tourney up til now - that one being a 3-2 nailbiter to super regional opponent Pepperdine.  You didn't expect this Omaha thing to be easy, I hope.

Win this, and UVA will, of course, await the winner of the losers' bracket; the losing team in this game will have to face the winner of the 3 PM game between Ole Miss and Texas Tech.  (This is unlikely to be Texas Tech.)  Below, find your scouting report:

-- First base: Kevin Cron (.278-5-40).  Cleanup hitter who owns the most power in the Frogs' lineup, but scouting reports for the draft suggest he would have a lot more if he refined his swing and approach.  Junior who was drafted in the 14th round by the D-backs, but turned down a 3rd-round pick three years ago.  Huge and slow on the basepaths.

-- Second base: Garrett Crain (.329-1-19).  Bats 5th.  Very good contact hitter who doesn't strike out much.  Excellent fielder who nevertheless went undrafted as a junior this year.

-- Third base: Derek Odell (.277-1-35).  Bats 2nd.  Another undrafted junior; has never been a stellar hitter, but has a good batting eye with nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and is a solid fielder.

-- Shortstop:  Keaton Jones (.275-0-20).  Bats 8th.  Light hitter with almost no power - only four doubles this season.  Very rangy on defense and forms the cornerstone of a veteran and very good-fielding infield.

-- Left field: Boomer White (.318-2-48).  Bats 3rd.  Good balance of speed, contact, and power.  Only underclassman (he's a sophomore) in the lineup.

-- Center field: Cody Jones (.272-0-17).  Leadoff hitter with terrific speed - has 28 SBs in 33 attempts.  Has 45 walks but also 47 Ks - both numbers are quite high.  Not much power, but that's to be expected.  Taken in the 38th round of the draft by the Indians.

-- Right field: Dylan Fitzgerald (.314-2-33).  Bats 7th.  Much improved hitter over last year; is now one of the better hitters in the lineup except for a nasty penchant for striking out; leads the team in that regard.

-- Catcher: Kyle Bacak (.267-0-18).  Bats 9th.  Never been much of a hitter; has no power.  Like most of the lineup, transferred from the junior college ranks.  Drafted in the 25th round by the Nats.

-- Designated hitter: Jerrick Suiter (.273-0-29).  Bats 6th.  26th-round pick by the Pirates, drafted as a right fielder; can also catch and pitched some as a freshman.

-- Pitching staff:

Starter: Brandon Finnegan (9-3, 2.12, 129 Ks).  Finnegan was drafted 17th overall by the Royals, just a couple notches ahead of Nick Howard.  He's a rare sort of pitcher: a 5'11" lefty with the fastball of a 6'3" righty.  It's his best pitch and he can throw it with a range of speeds; some scouting reports have him around 93-96 and others more like 91-94, but can occasionally touch 98.  Breaking ball is his second-best pitch and the change-up is third; someone patiently sitting on the change-up could easily strike out before they see one but could destroy it if it comes.  Finnegan does strike out a ton of hitters - so it's not the best idea necessarily to wait for that one pitch - and his heavy fastball limits quality contact.  He's allowed just eight doubles this year.  In his last start - Game 1 against Pepperdine - he allowed three hits and struck out 7 in 6 1/3.

Bullpen: The availability of closer Riley Ferrell (3-1, 0.87, 66 Ks) may be in doubt, as he went 1 2/3 innings and threw 33 pitches against Texas Tech; that said, they did play the early game and Ferrell would have over 48 hours of rest.  Ferrell has a .138 Op.BA and over 1.5 K's per inning, and can absolutely deal it.  The rest of the pen is perfectly fresh and never got off the bench on Sunday, giving TCU full use of workhorses Trey Teakell (6-0, 2.22, 36 Ks) and Alex Young (1-3, 2.53, 39 Ks).  Teakell is a righthander and Young a southpaw.  Both can go 2 or 3 innings if necessary; TCU leans very heavily on those two and doesn't otherwise have a tremendously deep pen.  Unless UVA knocks Finnegan out of the box really, really early, there aren't any other pitchers we're likely to see.

Synopsis: TCU is known as a pitching-and-fielding team.  They'd be a formidable opponent in a three-game series, as they have a very deep starting rotation, if not quite the bullpen depth UVA has.  Brandon Waddell is a very fine pitcher; Finnegan is probably better.  UVA has more options in the bullpen, but in a one-game affair, that's not going to matter.

However, this lineup reminds me a lot of a more veteran Maryland.  It's mostly juco transfers, and very experienced, but there isn't that one really scary player.  It's just a good lineup with minimal weak points, lacking major league firepower.  As you'll recall, Waddell tossed an excellent game against the Terps; TCU's lineup is a degree or two better, but Ole Miss had a much better one.  If UVA can find a few runs against Finnegan - and he wouldn't be the first ace-quality pitcher the Hoos have had just enough success against - they should be able to sneak out another low-scoring win.

Prediction: UVA 3, TCU 2

It's at this point where I humbly apologize for the unexpected disappearance.  Unexpected to me, anyway.  You might be used to it by now.  I did fully intend to preview the Ole Miss game.  I installed a new hard drive and figured re-installing Windows would be a simple matter, only it wasn't.  I eventually found a fix online, and I have no idea why it worked or why the damn thing was broke in the first place, but I'm not arguing.  I'm back online, albeit with a slightly delayed FOV COY contest.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2013-2014 Cavalier of the Year nominations

Sometime around this time of year is the blog's official birthday, and we're celebrating six years strong this month.  And like every year, it's time to hand out an award as if it matters.  This works like so: I provide 12 nominations.  Sometimes I provide 13 if I can't decide.  The whole point is to celebrate the all-around excellence of the athletic program, so it's not cheating if I expand the list at times; really, it's cheating if I don't.

The nominees then get their own post, two at a time, wherein I explain why each of them is awesome, and then I open up the voting; the final award is picked (mostly) by the voters.  I reserve the right to interpret the votes how I like; a "go vote for this person" campaign will not be ignored but it has resulted in a split award in the past.  This is for fun and there is no trophy or trip to the Bahamas (YET) so I can do that.

Past winners have come from a variety of teams, which is absolutely ideal for an award like this.  Here is the list:

2009: Danny Hultzen (baseball)
2010: Diego Restrepo (men's soccer)
2011: Danny Hultzen (baseball)
2012: Mike Scott (men's hoops), Morgan Brian (women's soccer)
2013: Jarmere Jenkins (men's tennis)

Additionally, there's been one four-time nominee, which itself is a pretty neat thing; that would be Paige Selenski of field hockey.

Without further ado, these are this year's nominees in alphabetical order:

Morgan Brian - Women's soccer
Jasmine Burton - Volleyball
Elly Buckley - Field hockey
Mark Cockerton - Men's lacrosse
Danielle Collins - Women's tennis
Alex Domijan - Men's tennis
Joe Harris - Men's basketball
Nathan Kirby - Baseball
JB Kolod - Men's diving
Denny McCarthy - Men's golf
Kevin Parks - Football
Nick Sulzer - Wrestling
Courtney Swan - Women's lacrosse

Yes, 13 again.  A sign that we're just about bursting at the seams, again, with quality athletes.  And there aren't even any swimmers this year, which is probably a first.  One thing I know is a first: there's never been a volleyball nominee before.  That's a team on the rise, though, deserving of some recognition and putting forth a deserving nominee to receive it.

Over the next, oh, couple of weeks or so, each nominee will be profiled and appropriately lauded for their accomplishments.  Voting will then open for about another two weeks, and the winner will be announced mid-July-ish.  Happy reading.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

weekend review

-- Finally the news basketball fans were chomping at the bit for: Tony Bennett's contract extension.  It's not a huge raise - Tony is still something like the 5th- or 6th-highest paid coach in the league, and it's less than VT is paying Buzz Williams - but it's loaded with bonuses and incentives.  And it's a seven-year deal, which means about four or so years before this issue comes up again.

Some may fret because the money isn't that much more and it could be seen as leaving him vulnerable to poachers.  I say, the whole idea of "locking him up" is a fallacy to begin with (when coaches want to leave, they leave) and if a whole pile of money was what motivated Tony Bennett, he'd have gotten more right now.

-- Jeff White had a fun article about Tony's Kiwi import, Jack Salt.  My favorite line: "'It was definitely a big positive coming here, knowing that they're two hours away, and I'm welcome to stay with them,' Salt said. 'And also my dad's in England, and that's an eight-hour flight. So there are a lot of positives.'" 

Anybody who thinks an eight-hour flight is nice and close is probably not getting homesick anytime soon.

-- A bevy of UVA baseball articles to be read following last night's big win, starting with Aaron Fitt at BA.  This one gives me the opportunity to correct an oversight last night when I failed to say anything along the lines of "holy hell what a nice-ass pitching job by Sborz."  Waddell and Mayberry also pitched brilliantly but Sborz is the guy who's had the toughest road this year; Fitt makes the point that this performance comes after giving way in the rotation to Artie Lewicki, and I in turn make the point that that's the kind of mental toughness that gives our coaches goosebumps.

Jerry Ratcliffe writes that Maryland woke the dragon and inserts a little fan-pleasing editorial as well: "At exactly 10:16 p.m., to the chants of “UVa,” and “ACC,” those cash-grabbing, ugly-flag-wearing, reptile-worshiping Marylanders took off toward the border, across the Potomac forever more."  Nice.  Jeff White collected quotes from some of the Terps themselves about Sborz's dominance, while Eric Vander Voort at went into some detail on Sborz's well-deserved curtain call.  Every article you could ask for included Maryland's coach John Szefc** and his "absolute college baseball monster" quote.

 **(I'm truly disappointed we won't get the chance to revisit that name every season, but Szefc seems like he could move on to bigger things eventually and could easily end up back in the ACC somewhere, as long as he gets a better grasp on when to pull a pitcher.  Maryland would've benefitted from a quicker trigger finger.)

-- The MLB draft actually went pretty well from a UVA perspective.  UVA had four of its commitments drafted, as below:

* C Devon Fisher, 20th round (Red Sox)
* RHP Derek Casey, 22nd round (Cardinals)
* 1B/LHP Pavin Smith, 32nd round (Rockies)
* RHP Tommy Doyle, 35th round (Nationals)

It's reasonable to bet that none will sign, although Fisher and Casey bear watching.  As for the eligible roster players, a whopping six (Howard, Fisher, Papi, Downes, Cogswell, and Lewicki) went in the top ten rounds; Mayberry went in round 21 and Irving in round 34.

Safe money says those top six will all be gone next year; Downes may have a case for coming back as he's been dealing with a nagging wrist injury, and a healthy and productive senior season could boost him a few rounds.  That said, I think he went early enough that it wouldn't matter, and I'm not counting on his return.  Mayberry of course is a senior.  Nate Irving, who dropped a long way, is the one most worth watching.  He has a real decision to make.

From a roster standpoint, Kenny Towns not being drafted is a pleasant surprise - it's got to be a disappointing kick in the teeth for him, of course.  I would never have guessed they'd go 40 rounds and never pick him up.  You wonder if his stellar hitting performance this weekend had anything to do with that.  If he spends all of next year pissed off, we could be in for a treat.

Of course, you know I'm loving every minute of the fact that Lewicki and Mayberry were drafted by the Olde English D.  The last time the Tigers picked a UVA ballplayer in the draft, I believe it was Seth Greisinger.  So, quite a while ago.  I was really hoping they'd get Howard, actually - that would've been an ideal fit.  Howard went a few picks before the Tigers had their shot, though. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

acc you later

Maryland has some competitors in the upcoming women's track and field NCAA championships, but, whatever.  They'll run or jump or whatever they do and it won't make a ripple.  For all real intents and purposes, UVA just closed the book on 60-ish years of Maryland and the ACC.  You can leave the exit fee right there in the clubhouse.  Cash only, please, no checks.

Last time the Hoos tripped out to Omaha, major drama was involved.  No such doings this time.  UVA took Maryland's best shot, reeled a tiny bit, and then let slip the dogs of war.  The most meaningful run Maryland would score in games 2 and 3 was a single scratch-out against Brandon Waddell on Sunday, tying game 2 at 1 run each; UVA got that one right back the next chance they got and the Terps would from then on score only too late.  I guess going from 6-0 to 6-2 counts as a miniature rally, but Nick Howard needed exactly one pitch to snuff it and by the time he returned to the hill, he'd been given five more runs to work with.  Not that he needed it; just a little something to put the home crowd in a good mood.

It should worry UVA's Omaha opponents that the Hoos won these games without major contributions from their best players.  Nathan Kirby pitched very eh on Friday, and was still almost bailed out.  Nick Howard didn't even throw until game 3, then threw one pitch of any import and then, well, it's not like he was the only guy who could've protected that nine-run lead.  Mike Papi came to the plate in the 8th on Monday, with his team already ridiculously comfortable in their lead, and the announcers pointed out he was the only one not to reach base that night.  (And then he hit a double.)

The CWS field is now set, of course, with UVA learning their opponent about 15 minutes after getting up from the dogpile.  That will be Ole Miss.  Vengeance Tour '14 is now flipped on its head, with Mississippi awaiting in Omaha and UC-Irvine on the other side of the bracket, and let's hope the revenge trail has gone cold.  The Rebs are several steps up from the kind of competition UVA has faced so far.  That game will be Sunday in prime time.  Halfway there, folks.

More stuff:

-- The CWS schedule meshes just beautifully with the World Cup.  UVA plays on the 15th; USA vs. Ghana is a day later.  USA vs. Portugal is the 22nd, which happens to be the day in between the "if necessaries" for the double-elimination round and the start of the best-of-three; USA vs. Germany is the day after Game 3.

-- I absolutely need to single out Joe McCarthy because his 3rd-inning base hit was pure hit-and-run perfection.  The ball skipped merrily through the exact spot that had been recently vacated by the base-covering shortstop.

-- Last weekend the regional announcer said that this was a much more athletic UVA team than ones he'd seen in the past.  After seeing some of the leaps to the top of the dogpile, I believe it.

-- Is there a worse feeling in baseball than leaving your glove on the wrong side of the fence and then having to chase down an eventual triple?   That has to be even worse than if the ball had landed over the fence too.

-- I don't know whether 17 hits is the more amazing stat, or 15 singles.

-- Omaha and a basketball title (and the Sweet 16) in one year; not too shabby.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

series preview: Maryland

Date/Time: Sat-Mon, June 7-9; 12:00, 12:00, 4:00
(Monday game is if necessary)


Record against the Terps: 109-79-1

Last meeting: Md. 7, UVA 6; 5/22/14, Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last weekend:
UVA won Charlottesville regional (10-1 over Bucknell, 3-0 over Arkansas, 9-2 over Arkansas)
Maryland won Columbia regional (4-3 over ODU, 4-3 over South Carolina, 10-1 over South Carolina)

Pitching probables:

LHP Nathan Kirby (9-1, 1.36, 102 Ks) vs. RHP Jake Stinnett (7-6, 2.65, 130 Ks)

LHP Brandon Waddell (8-3, 2.73, 63 Ks) vs. RHP Mike Shawaryn (11-3, 2.81, 70 Ks)

RHP Artie Lewicki (6-1, 1.72, 46 Ks) vs. LHP Jake Drossner (4-1, 2.45, 55 Ks)

(These are my own guesses; neither school has put them out there yet.)

Regional weekend was full of carnage this year.  Should make for an interesting College World Series.  Three of eight national seeds advanced and only seven of 16 regional hosts.  Only one super-regional pits regional hosts against each other, and two will be hosted by teams that didn't have their own regional.  The big winner: the Big 12, which sent five teams to the tournament and watched four of them win regionals.  The ACC was only 2 for 7 in that regard; the Pac-12, 1 for 5; and the SEC, a miserable 2 for 10.  Even the Big Ten was having a terrific year by its standards until regional play began; two teams represented the conference, one as a host and one as a two-seed, and both lost.

On Vengeance Tour '14, UVA got its first taste of sweet revenge by blowing Arkansas out of the water.  South Carolina would've been up next, but Maryland had other ideas, which is OK because the Hoos can simply refocus their revenge efforts on more recent events.  More interestingly, the Sunday contest will be the very last time a Maryland team takes the field (or court, or whatever) with the ACC logo on their chest.  (Or Monday.)

(Of course, with UC-Irvine and Ole Miss still in the field, if UVA makes it to Omaha we'll have to hope for a real quick end to Vengeance Tour '14, or rename it the Continued Dominance Tour or something.  Could you imagine if both UVA and Irvine made it to the final of finals in Omaha?  That'd be a really fascinating matchup.)

Then again, I forget myself.  Maryland first.  They're having a historically fantastic season, and while they shouldn't be quite on UVA's level, it's baseball and anything can happen.  You get to this level, you take them all seriously.  And in this case, winning would be awesome but losing would be even worse than winning would be good.  Here's the deal with the Terps:

Scouting report:

-- First base: LaMonte Wade (.259-2-24).  2nd hitter.  Main asset at the plate is a very good batting eye; leads team in walks with 35.  Has a little bit of pop but sometimes struggles to make contact and strikes out a little bit more than you want from a 2 hitter.

-- Second base: Brandon Lowe (.341-1-39).  3rd hitter.  Redshirt freshman hits for a lot of contact; leads team in average (.341) and slugging average (.467) despite only one home run.  Very tough out; 33 walks against just 18 strikeouts.

-- Third base: Jose Cuas (.266-5-42).  Cleanup hitter.  Horrible strikeout-to-walk ratio (45 Ks, 14 BBs) but the ball flies off his bat when he gets ahold of it.  Solid fielder for a college third baseman.

-- Shortstop: Blake Schmit (.307-1-26).  5th hitter.  Low numbers in homers, walks, and Ks, so kind of an anti-Rob Deer.  Leads the team in doubles with 16.  Excellent fielder and a bit of a speedster on the basepaths (16 steals.)

-- Left field: Tim Lewis (.292-0-13).  6th hitter.  Juco transfer who hit his way into the lineup midseason.  Solid hitter who isn't outstanding at anything in particular but gets the job done.

-- Center field: Charlie White (.276-2-28).  Leadoff hitter.  Speedster with 24 stolen bases in 28 attempts and has been plunked by 18 pitches, tied for second with Schmit.  (Maryland has a particular talent for that, having been HBP no fewer than 122 times - more than twice per game.)  Very difficult to strike out.

-- Right field: Anthony Papio (.267-2-26).  8th hitter.  Outplayed early-season competition to lock down right field job.  Decent average, but a strikeout machine with nearly 50.  Not much power.

-- Catcher: Kevin Martir (.276-4-25).  9th hitter.  Swings a lot, but not an easy strikeout, and is second on the team in home runs.

-- Designated hitter: Nick Cieri (.250-0-17).  7th hitter.  Numbers aren't great, but, only true freshman in regular starting lineup.  Left-hander who sometimes gives way to senior Kyle Convissar (.250-1-15).

-- Pitching staff:

Saturday: RHP Jake Stinnett (7-6, 2.65, 130 Ks).  Drafted last year as a junior in the 29th round (Pirates) but opted to return to school for a senior year.  Big pitcher described as "crafty but a righty" by Big League Futures.  Throws a 90-ish fastball, change, and a slider.  Opposing batters are hitting .192.  Only Maryland starter UVA has seen this year; Stinnett struck out 10 in 8 innings but gave up 10 hits and Hoos scored four runs.  Has four complete games this year.

Sunday: RHP Mike Shawaryn (11-3, 2.81, 70 Ks).  Freshman drafted out of high school in the 32nd round (Royals) but chose college.  Similar-sized pitcher to Stinnett, but a harder thrower with somewhat less control.  Generally pitches only into the 6th inning.

Monday: LHP Jake Drossner (4-1, 2.45, 55 Ks).  Sophomore was a 23rd-round pick by the Cubs out of high school.  Rocky freshman year but settled down this season; still walks too many hitters.  Has nearly as many walks as Stinnett in half the innings.  Tends to only go about five innings per start.

-- Bullpen: Closer Kevin Mooney (1-2, 4.05, 45 Ks) has 12 saves, but they've been adventurous.  He nearly blew the save against UVA, coming in to protect a 7-4 lead and giving up two runs.  Mooney gets a ton of strikeouts, however.  RHP Bobby Ruse (7-2, 2.86, 32 Ks) is the top long-relief option, and lefty Zach Morris (2-1, 2.77, 19 Ks) can also pitch in long relief and is an outside possibility to take the start on Monday.  Morris's K/BB ratio is underwater, though, and he allows a .257 BA.  By contrast, southpaw Ben Brewster (0-0, 2.74, 28 Ks) allows a miniscule .132 BA.  Other options such as Taylor Stiles (4-2, 4.15, 30 Ks) and Jared Price (1-2, 6.91, 31 Ks) exist, but after that top four the hittability goes way up.

-- Synopsis: Gone for now are the days when you could kick back on a nice Saturday and watch the Hoos score their customary 20 runs on Maryland.  They have a real live pitching staff now, and a better lineup than Arkansas had.  That's not saying a lot, really, but while Maryland lacks a truly fearsome bat, they also lack any large weak points, and can pinch-hit some very experienced players if they want.

UVA is the better team on paper, there's no doubt.  Maryland's lineup is respectable; UVA's is better even with numbers that've caused hand-wringing for underperformance.  Maryland has good pitching and they held a tough South Carolina lineup in check; UVA's is better yet.  And a similar situation exists in the bullpen.  It's important to remember, too, that in the loss, UVA threw its third-best pitcher while Maryland had their ace.  Jake Stinnett is a good pitcher worthy of the ace label, but.... man, Nathan Kirby.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this series go three games.  Maryland is the kind of team that doesn't know they were supposed to stink, and they've been hot lately; since May began they're 14-2, with one of those two losses coming in a meaningless ACC tourney game when they had wrapped up the pool already.  But - BOC spoke very highly of his team's performance and demeanor from last weekend, and UVA is 32-3 at home.  You take a reasonably confident and loose team with as much talent as UVA has, put them at a home stadium where they almost never lose, and playing a team that doesn't quiiite measure up on paper, and that's a team that ought to at least be able to take two of three.


FYI - this is the last post til Monday.  I'm getting on a plane tomorrow.  Next week, I'll start the nomination series for the 6th annual FOV Cavalier of the Year, a series which I always enjoy.  And with any luck we can intersperse more baseball previews and wutnot.

Monday, June 2, 2014

weekend review

Well, that turned out to be not so hard.  It was no great shock that Bucknell presented little challenge, but even knowing about Arkansas's struggles at the plate it was a little surprising the ease with which UVA dispatched them.  It was the blueprint of a regional weekend from start to finish: Hold back your ace and let him dominate a Saturday pitching battle after you blow out the 4 seed on Friday.  Then force the one-loss survivor to stretch their pitching just past the breaking point.  Arkansas starter Zach Jackson broke down exactly at the point where he'd reached his single-game maximum pitches and innings count.

UVA outscored their opponents 22-3 on the weekend, which you can't do unless the bats get off the schneid some.  Hallelujah.  Much was helped, to be sure, by the frying-pan mitts on the left side of Arky's infield, both Saturday and Sunday.  (Irrelevant side note: the Razorback shortstop shares both a name and some facial resemblence with the villain in my favorite episode of NCIS.)  It's often said, though, that you can't give a good team like UVA four or five outs an inning, and the Hoos sniffed blood and pounced like a championship team should.

Even so, pitching carried the day.  The starters went more than 20 innings - I forget the exact amount but, y'know, a lot - without allowing a run.  Not even an unearned one.  What a tremendous advantage that is.  It'd take a really unusual set of circumstances to lose the regional after that.  I mean, Nathan Kirby.  This guy, man.  Be honest: did you ever feel like his three-run lead was anything less than perfectly safe?

UVA advances to take on Maryland, and in doing so becomes the bad guy in a feel-good story about a plucky little underdog trying to do things it's never done before.  Maryland knocked off regional host South Carolina in extremely convincing fashion, making this guy look incredibly stupid in the process.  Well, even stupider than you would when your only argument for why teams are bad is that they used to be.  At any rate, if the Hoos eliminate the Terps this weekend,

More bullety stuff:

-- Nate Irving had one of the oddest at-bats in recent memory.  First a "foul ball" that actually glanced off the catcher's glove (it wasn't the best weekend for umpiring, to be honest) and then a real and very unlucky foul ball that flew to the wrong side of the hitter and somehow hit the upraised bat.

-- I really do not know how the same shortstop can make a Web Gem-nominated play in between two utterly pitiful ones.  But I'll take it.  The pitiful ones led to runs and the brilliant stop was worth the out just to watch it.

-- The camera crew only showed Zach Jackson twice after his removal from the game, which is a step in the right direction - away from the usual puzzling desire to soak up as much despair from losing athletes as possible.  I don't like the gleeful broadcasting of some poor guy's misery.  But was it necessary to follow BOC's teenaged daughter all around the stadium?  Yes, I'm sure she's a nice girl and happy birthday and all, now leave her be, once is plenty.  The production truck could theoretically be called a windowless van, but you don't have to act like it.

-- I like that if we're going to bunt, we play a little Irvine baseball and hold the bat in bunting position even before the pitcher winds up.  The whole point of a pitcher is to not let the hitter do what he wants to do, so I honestly think that holding the bat like that makes the pitcher subconsciously want to miss the bat with his pitch.... which means missing the strike zone too.

-- Arkansas brought in their sidearm pitcher and it's a shame we didn't have some righties to face him because he seemed to think the strike zone was about two feet north and east of where it really was, and would've plunked the bases loaded if the hitters hadn't been lefties.


-- The ACC unveiled its new logo last week.  I don't hate it; I might even start to like it.  I just think it's funny that they're still ganking the Big East's assets.

The booklet is a little silly, though.  Actually, it's a lot silly.  "The ACC brand simplifies purchase decision for fans and partners of the ACC."  Is that even English?  They're English words, I'm sure of that, but they don't fit together to make an English sentence.  "The lettering is accentuated by a bold, silver underline that symbolizes the ACC’s journey toward a bright future."  All the schools have the logo rendered in their own colors, though, and Duke's and NC State's underlines are black.  Should those schools be worried about the future?  I know this, though: the sentence "The ACC's future is really bright, and you can tell because their logo has a silver underline" is one that has never been uttered or written in human history and never will again.**

It's a frickin' logo, man.  It's nice.  But it's just a logo.  Your brand is what other people think you are (they even admit as much in the little book) so you can't just go telling people what it is and expect it to stick.  I wish they'd put half the effort into fixing the website; right now, "clueless about technology" is more a part of their brand than "confident yet humble."

**Unless someone gets smartassy in the comments.

-- I've parsed this article about the SEC's "Division IV" threat several times and cannot for the life of me figure out the difference between this Division IV thing and the autonomy the five conferences want.  The message seems to be "Let us do what we want, or we'll do what we want."  Actually, the timing of this public airing, and its message, what it really seems to say is "we're close to locking up the support we need for this autonomy thing, but we need to scare a few more people into compliance."