The Virginia Tech baseball team continues its run through the Atlantic Coast Conference gantlet this weekend against No. 2 Virginia in Charlottesville.
In the two previous weeks, the No. 20 Hokies took series from ACC powers Florida State and Miami, and now have a chance to take down the most highly ranked team in the conference.
UVa (27-8, 10-5 ACC) spent most of the season in the No. 1 national spot before dropping a series to North Carolina State in Raleigh. Last week, the Cavaliers took two-of-three against No. 5 Georgia Tech at home to make their way toward the top spot again.
Tech (24-11, 8-7 ACC) enters the weekend having won four of its five ACC series so far, only losing at Clemson, a team UVa won a series against at home.
Overall, the Cavaliers have been difficult to beat at home this season as they hold a 21-3 record with losses against Wright State, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Last season, the Hokies won the series against UVa in Blacksburg, and Tech matches up pretty well with the Cavaliers this year as well. Both teams can hit, and they compare pretty closely in the major statistical categories, so the series will come down to pitching.
Friday night will feature a battle of the lefties, with sophomore Danny Hultzen (5-1, 2.04 ERA) taking the hill for UVa against Tech junior Justin Wright (4-3, 4.02 ERA), who picked up a win against the Cavaliers last year.
Hultzen has been dominant for the Cavaliers; he ranks second in the ACC in ERA, first in opponent batting average (.169) and first in strikeouts with 66. Wright may not have the numbers, but he can succeed against any premiere starter in the ACC and has for two seasons.
Wright got off to a slow start early in the season due to the cold weather, but he has pitched well in his last four starts on the mound, with wins against Florida State and Wake Forest, a loss against Clemson when the Hokies were shut out, and a no decision against Miami in which he threw six innings and only gave up three earned runs.
The Hokies hitters have faced a steady diet of left-handed pitching in the last month, so the Hokies should be ready for Hultzen.
On Saturday, Tech sophomore Mathew Price (4-2, 5.75 ERA) will go up against UVa junior Robert Morey (4-2, 4.40 ERA). Both pitchers got knocked around last weekend, Price against Miami, Morey against Georgia Tech, but each are capable of taking over a game. Morey finished seventh in the
ACC in ERA last season and second in opponent batting average (.210), and Price has shown the ability to be dominant as well.
Finally, on Sunday, Tech junior Jesse Hahn (5-2, 2.28 ERA) should start against UVa junior Cody Winiarski (4-0, 4.70 ERA). Hahn, much like Hultzen, has been one of the best pitchers in the ACC this season, and this may be Tech’s chance to pull out a win against the Cavaliers.
While the starters should provide some entertaining baseball, the series will come down to who has the better bullpen, and UVa holds the edge right now.
UVa’s junior closer Kevin Arico currently holds a 2.37 ERA with 11 saves, and junior reliever Tyler Wilson has a 3.69 ERA in 18 appearances and 31.2 innings pitched.
Tech’s closer, Ben Rowen, sports a 0.67 ERA over 27 innings pitched and has been especially impressive in the crucial series’ against Florida State and Miami. Freshmen Joe Mantiply and Jake Joyce are progressing as middle relievers, and junior Manny Martir is coming along as well.
In addition to Mantiply, Joyce, and Martir, junior Sean McDermott, who was a mainstay out of the bullpen last year, has made two appearances in the last week after dealing with rotator cuff issues all season. His presence will definitely bolster a thin Tech bullpen, though UVa will still hold the advantage.