Keeler: Cavaliers set for deep run

Could this be the year?

The University of Virginia baseball team has fielded some pretty strong squads over the last few years. The Cavaliers qualified for the College World Series in 2009 and 2011.
This season could be the Cavaliers’ best opportunity to win it all. They are 42-9, including an impressive 29-3 at home.

They are ranked No. 1 in the country in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and deservedly so. Virginia has a real balance this year with its pitching and its hitting.

The Cavaliers lead the ACC with a 2.26 ERA, and are ranked seventh in the country in that statistic. The Cavaliers allowed three runs or fewer in 17 straight games from Feb. 15-March 20, and in 38 of 47 games this season.

Nathan Kirby is 8-1 with a 1.62 ERA. He has 84 strikeouts in 78 innings of work.
Kirby hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his 12 starts this season.

Brandon Waddell and Josh Sborz have also given the Cavaliers plenty of quality starts. The duo has a combined 11-5 record this season.

Not only has Virginia’s starting pitching been strong, but so has its bullpen. Whit Mayberry has led the way. He has limited opponents to a .183 batting average, has a 5-1 record and an 1.56 ERA. Mayberry has struck out 42 in 40.1 innings.

Nick Howard has also been solid as the Cavaliers’ closer. He has 17 saves in 25.1 innings with a 2-0 record and a 1.07 ERA. Howard has struck out 47 in just 25.1 innings of work.
The Cavaliers’ power game started off slowly, but they have been going deep a lot more over the last few weeks. Mike Papi leads the way with eight home runs. He also has a team-high 44 RBIs.

Joe McCarthy leads Virginia with a .314 batting average. McCarthy has 41 RBIs, and 14 doubles.

The Cavaliers are averaging 5.5 runs per game, and are hitting .277 as a team.

Virginia has also been very solid on defense with just 37 errors in 51 games.

Virginia has been really strong on the weekends all season. They have won the weekend series in all 12 weekends this year. They have swept five of their opponents on the weekend.

The Cavaliers have also been stellar in one-run games, with a 12-3 record in one-run contests.

Virginia has a three-game series at Wake Forest on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They will then play in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., starting on May 21.

It will be a very tough conference tourney. The Cavaliers are actually in second place in the Coastal division behind Miami.

There are currently three ACC teams in the USA Today Top 25, and two more that are receiving votes.

It will be a very difficult tournament for the Cavaliers, but it should make them battle-tested for the NCAA Tournament.

Another reason I like the Cavaliers is because of manager Brian O’Connor. I met and interviewed O’Connor in his rookie season, and was impressed with him even then. He’s done a great job turning the program around.

The Cavaliers are just one of eight programs that has been to the NCAA Tournament in 10 consecutive seasons. O’Connor has been there for 11 straight. Coincidence? I think not.

As good as the Cavaliers have been I still think the best is yet to come. The more success the Cavaliers have, the better prospects they will continue to bring in.

U.Va. fans have a lot to cheer about thee days with their success in many sports, but in the next few years, maybe even starting this season, they might find baseball is the sport they can win multiple championships in over the next five years.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd