If you haven’t had the chance to visit Charlottesville and UVA, you’re missing out on one of the truly great college towns in the country. The campus and the region are incredible, and the wine at Monticello just down the road isn’t bad either.
That being said... we hate UVA this weekend, as the under-seeded Cavaliers head to Fort Worth to try and upset the Frogs, and thus right a perceived wrong by taking ownership of the Regional they strongly felt should be theirs. We sat down with Ryan Reese to hear his complaints, talk his team, and figure out if TCU should be worried about Hoos coming to town.
FOW: The overwhelming narrative of Selection Monday was that UVA got robbed. Give us your elevator pitch case for why the Hoos should be hosting… or just talk crap about Clemson.
STL: I’ll keep this simple, but I dig deeper into the topic here. But in a nutshell, the committee claimed that Virginia’s non-conference schedule was the tiebreaker, and that’s fine if you’re comparing Virginia to, let’s just say Long Beach State. But when you have 4 games of head to head results as well as a conference schedule's worth of common opponents, I don’t know how the first tie breakers aren’t head to head and conference standing. Add to that all of the games played between Clemson and Virginia were away from Charlottesville, I’m not sure how that isn’t taken into account. Furthermore, when you award hosting bids to Florida State and Houston citing their play at the end of the year, I can’t see how you can ignore how poorly Clemson played down the stretch. Speaking of Florida State, they lost series to both Clemson and Virginia (in Tallahassee), so while they were hot at the end of the year, I’m not sure those head to head results should have been discounted either.
FOW: Virginia is led by one of the best collegiate baseball players in the country in outfielder/pitcher Adam Haseley. He good. Not many teams have slowed him down, judging by his lofty BA, but every player has a weakness - what's the best way to get Adam out?
STL: Honestly, I don’t know. Perhaps the only kryptonite (and one for Virginia as a team over the years) is a soft-throwing lefty. But Haseley has been nothing short of special this year. Not only is he hitting .400 on the year, but he leads the team in walks as well. He’s always had an excellent eye, bat control, and gap to gap ability, but the big change this year has been an uptick in power. Coming into the year, he had seven career home runs. This season he’s hit 14, but what’s even crazier is the most of those have gone to the opposite field. He’s parlayed this year into being talked about as a high first round draft pick. Oh yeah, and he’s also the team’s best starter going 7-1 on the year. It’s still TBD whether he will pitch due to an injury he’s nursing, but you can bet he’ll be in the lineup and patrolling center field all weekend.
FOW: Outside of Haseley, who are the Hoos most important players on offense? What makes them tick?
STL: As good as Haseley has been this year, he’s not even Virginia’s best hitter (according to scouts at least). That distinction belongs to Pavin Smith. Smith has been a stud in all three years in Charlottesville and he’s being talked about as a possible Top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. The only stat you need to know about Smith (and one you’ll probably hear ad nauseam all weekend) is that Smith has 12 home runs to only nine strikeouts on the year. For a power hitter who also leads the team in RBI, that’s ridiculous. But Smith isn’t the only other hitter in the lineup either. Cameron Simmons has had a breakout year hitting .368 with nine home runs. He’s second on the team in RBI and hits to gaps and runs well having 14 doubles and three triples this season. But top to bottom, Virginia can hit. Seven Cavalier regulars are hitting over .300 and two more who split regular at bats are hitting over .283, so there aren’t many holes in the lineup. As far as what makes them tick, it’s probably just getting guys on base and putting pressure on the pitcher. Five Cavalier starters are getting on base at a higher than .518. That’s a lot of momentum that the whole lineup feeds off of.
FOW: The starting pitchers don't lose a lot of games - combined 18-7 record between the three primary starters - but the ERAs are really high for an elite rotation (none under 3.00). Have the pitchers been saved by UVA mashing their way to wins, and is it something that concerns you in the postseason when pitching and defense tend to win?
STL: I think a lot of it is the offense putting runs on the board which can mask a lot of flaws in the staff. But as far as the high ERAs, Coach O’Connor has had a pretty short leash with a lot of his starters this season. More often than not, if a starter got hit hard, chances were he wasn’t going to make it out of the third inning. Haseley led the starters with 6.0 innings per start, with Daniel Lynch coming in second at 5.2, followed by Derek Casey (5.0) and Noah Murdock (4.1). Whether that was due to the offense or the pitcher’s ineffectiveness/inexperience I can't tell for certain, but it was a thing that stuck out to me more this year than any other I can recall. Another big reason for O’Connor’s quick hook has been the performance of the bullpen, in particular Alec Bettinger. Bettinger is a senior starter who has seen time in the starting rotation as well as the bullpen over the course of his career. He’s usually relied upon to shut things down if a starter gets in trouble and eat up chunks of innings in the process. As far as the weekend outlook, I’m more concerned about depth, than quality of starters. Murdock is injured, and he had come on strong once he entered the rotation in early April and as I mentioned above, it’s still TBD as to whether Haseley will be able to go. That leaves Virginia with only three guys who have meaningful starting experience this year, and if they have to go four or even five games, it will be tough to come up with the arms.
FOW: Outside of the starters, though, Virginia has two elite relievers in Alec Bettinger and Tommy Doyle. What are their usual roles on the team and how do you expect them to be used this weekend?
STL: Bettinger and Doyle have been nothing short of amazing this season. These two were much maligned after the bullpen seemed to be the greatest weakness on last year’s team, but they have turned it around and made the back end of the ‘pen a real asset. Bettinger might be the team’s MVP. At 8-0 with a 2.54 ERA, he’s been everything Virginia has needed this season. He’s not your typical set-up guy though as in his 19 appearances, he averaged 3.0 innings per appearances including going more than 2.0 innings 13/19 appearances. Sometimes he was a set-up man, sometimes an extension of the starter, but regardless of his role, Virginia was 17-2 in games he appeared. Doyle is your typical shut down closer. He’s got a nasty breaking ball (which can get him into trouble on allowing baserunners on third strikes in the dirt) and leveraged it to a 3-1 record with a team leading 1.93 ERA. He got a good strikeout rate at over 10 per nine innings and that has led to 13 saves on the season. Given the pitching depth struggles, their roles will really depend on results. The thing with Bettinger is given his number of innings per appearance, you’re likely to see him probably at most twice as there’s a good chance he’s going to be called upon for a long relief appearance to save the starting staff. If Doyle can go long if need be (he was a starter in Cape Cod League this summer), but Virginia’s at their best if he’s only getting an inning per appearance.
FOW: Not only does UVA have to hit the road, where they are just 11-7, but they have to head all the way to Texas and face off with one of the hottest teams in the country - 40+ win DBU who is 13-3 in their last 16 games. How do you see that game one matchup vs the Patriots going?
STL: I’m not too worried about Virginia playing away from home. While the record might not jump off the page, Virginia played well away from Davenport all season avoiding road series sweeps at North Carolina and Clemson while winning a series in Tallahassee against Florida State as the Seminoles were beginning to round into form. One reason for my optimism is this is a Virginia unlike those in the past as it’s driven by the offense as opposed to pitching and defense, which are O’Connor calling cards. And where that comes into play on the road is Virginia’s home field is set up to take advantage of pitching and defense, so might I dare say the ball park held the guys back when playing at home to at least a degree? While I’ve heard that Lupton Stadium is pitcher friendly, that will suit Virginia just fine. But in the case that it turns out to be a hitters park, that won’t bother the Hoos at all. Regarding Dallas Baptist, I do believe there will be some runs scored. They’re very impressive at the plate and Virginia’s pitchers have been known to give up a long ball or two. If Virginia pitchers can keep runners off the bases and limit the damage of the home runs, I think they can grab the first game.
FOW: What is your prediction for the weekend? Can UVA make it through Fort Worth and on to the Supers? Do they have the pitching to make it through four games in a row if they have to beat TCU or DBU twice?
STL: For Virginia, I think the first game is key. If they can get past the Patriots and set up a winner’s bracket game with TCU, I think Virginia can advance. The sooner they fall into the loser's bracket, the more the pitching depth will take its toll. Two years ago, Virginia was in a similar boat on their way to the title in 2015. Everything broke their way and they rode good enough starting pitching along with a shut down closer in Josh Sborz all the way to the title. Had they fallen into the loser’s bracket in either the regional or early in Omaha, the season could have ended a lot differently. Virginia has the team to make it to Omaha, but they’re going to need some breaks. I know this won’t be popular, but I say Virginia’s bats are enough and they win the Regional taking two of three from TCU.
FOW: This is Texas, so we are contractually obligated to ask: BBQ - Sauce or no sauce? Beef or Pork?
STL: I’m going to go with no sauce on the first part of the question as I think the meat should speak for itself. And regarding cow of pig, I like both, but lean beef. That’s my opinion, but in the nature of a question like this and good spirited rivalry, I teed it up to the rest of the staff and got the following response from two of our editors, Paul Wiley and WIll Campbell
“Hog, as God and nature intended. Preferably whole hog. If you want to slap some dead cow over some fire and fix cowboy vittles, have at it--we just won't acknowledge it as Q. We begrudge no man some sauce if the spirit so moves. But a good pre-rub and the right preparation--no more than 225, no less than six hours--yields a bounty that requires no doctoring, alteration or amendment”
Feel free to direct your ire towards @pmwcville and @WillC_45
Thank you to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions, but Paul and Will can go turn on a spit for their terrible BBQ takes ;). Check out our Q&A on their site, here.