Will Campbell from Streaking the Lawn, UVa's SBNation site, stops by to talk about Virginia baseball and tonight's game between two very similar teams. We did a Q&A with them as well and we'll have that up for you today. Brace yourself, great pitching is coming.
Will there be any changed in the lineup with Finnegan on the hill? Anything that TCU does well, that would make Virginia change their strategy from the 1st game?
The lineup has been pretty set in stone since the beginning of the ACC tournament, so I wouldn't expect too many changes. The only thing different might be Robby Coman behind the plate instead of Nate Irving. That is more likely due to Waddell being on the mound more so than Finnegan pitching for TCU. Irving struggled a bit at the plate in the regional and super regional and was replaced by Coman who came through with a few hits late against Maryland. Then again, Irving was back in the lineup on Sunday against Ole Miss, so I am not really sure who will do the catching.
I give TCU credit for having an excellent pitching staff and Finnegan is a hell of a starter, judging by his numbers, but UVa isn't going to change any strategy. One of Coach O'Connor's main coaching philosophies is to play the "your game" and to stick with it. I believe, and I am sure the coaching staff believes, that if UVa plays their game the right way, the only way for TCU to win is if they flat out beat them.
What can you tell me about your starter for tonight?
Brandon Waddell entered the year as the Friday guy. He pitched in the Friday spot his Freshman year last year and did pretty well (6-3, 3.96). Fortunately for all of us UVa fans, he has been even better this year, even though he was replaced by Nathan Kirby in the Friday position and moved to Saturday. He's not going to overpower anyone as he only tops out at about 92, but he as the ability to mix in a change up and a decent slider to keep hitters guessing. I'd credit that more to Coach Kuhn's coaching and pitch calling style than Waddell or any of the other Cavalier pitchers though.
Offensively, who should we look out for?
Over the last 3 or 4 games just about every Cavalier hitter has been somewhat "on." It hasn't lead to a plethora of runs, but the hits and runners have certainly been there. Many of us were expecting this offense to be there all season after averaging nearly a high run total last year. Individually, you'll want to keep an eye on Mike Papi. If you've watched UVa at all over the last two weeks, you'll know about him. He's the 3 hole guy that has almost carried the Cavaliers to Omaha, and had the walk off hit against Ole Miss on Sunday. Kenny Towns has been near the bottom of the lineup producing as well. He had more than a few big hits against Maryland and continued his hot ways on Sunday. I call out those two, but I feel pretty confident about UVa's lineup 1-9. The numbers haven't been there all season, but there isn't a player in the lineup that isn't capable of producing when needed.
What's the baseball tradition/fanbase at Virginia like? How well did y'all travel to Omaha?
Since our first appearance in Omaha in 2009, the UVa baseball fanbase has been growing at a rapid pace. Nearly every year, UVa has had to do some sort of expansion or addition of the stadium to keep up with the demand of the fans. We don't exactly have a tradition "rich" program because up until 2004, when Coach O'Connor took over, UVa was the suck. The baseball program was nearly cut, and many didn't think to highly of the program. Since O'Connor took over, UVa has won two ACC Tournaments, been to the NCAA tournament every year, been to five super regionals and hosted four of them, and been to the College World Series three times.
Since I didnt get to go to Omaha this year, I can't tell you exactly, but I imagine we would still travel pretty well. Certainly wouldn't compare us to the likes of Ole Miss or LSU, but there should be a respectable amount of UVa fans. Luckily for us, O'Connor grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the river from Omaha, and took Creighton to the CWS in the 90's, so UVa gets "adopted" by many fans when the Cavaliers make an appearance.
Are there any baseball traditions that y'all have?
Honestly, not that I can think of off the top of my head. Like I said in the previous question, UVa is still fairly new when it comes to the national baseball scene, and the fanbase is still fairly young, so traditions just haven't been set yet. If you get the chance, come up to Charlottesville and see a game. We like to consider Davenport Field one of the nicest stadiums in the country, and our fans' tailgates are getting better and better with every NCAA tournament appearance.
How does this team differ from the very good 2011 squad? Are the expectations higher/are you more confident in the possibility of getting a National Championship?
That 2011 squad was good, but I'd place it as 3rd best in our program's history. I had higher expectations for the 2010 team that lost in the Super Regionals to Okalahoma than I did for 2011. Compared to this team, that 2011 team didn't have nearly the offensive weapons that that this team has. 2011 did have Tyler Wilson, Danny Hultzen, and Will Roberts as one of the top rotations in the country, but the hitters in that lineup probably shouldn't be compared to Papi, McCarthy, and Fisher.
I came into this season saying that this team needed to reach the Championship Series in Omaha, or I would consider it a let down. They have been ranked at the top or close to it for most of the season, and lived up to those expectations, not dropping a series until the final weekend at Wake Forest. With the way the pitching has been throwing lately, and the hitters at the plate, I don't think I can back off that expectation.
Y'all are probably the favorites to win it all. How does that feel? Is that more of a curse than blessing? What's the biggest obstacle keeping y'all from a National title?
It's certainly a weird feeling. Unless you're an Alabama football fan, does any college sports fan ever gets used to having your team ranked #1? Because most of us have watched UVa football for so long, we are probably waiting for the wheels to fall off and let us down. But at the same time, I am not sure if I can call it a curse or blessing. Most Virginia fans have seen the program rise and are just hoping that the program can get over the final hurdle and finish off a title.
I am sure many will see this as bravado or homerism, but the only thing I see as keeping UVa from winning the title, is UVa. If Virginia plays it's game by pitching and hitting the way they have the whole season, there arent many teams out there that can beat them. I guess the biggest obstacle keeping UVa out of the winner's circle are errors and hanging sliders. (Problem is, at this point in the season, not many other teams have many weaknesses or obstacles that could keep them out, so I imagine many fanbases will feel the same way about their teams.)
What's your pick for tonight's game?
If you're looking at the stats that both teams have put up this tournament and all season long, you can't expect much more than a 2-1 or 3-2 game. I certainly hope and expect UVa to come out on top, but if TCU wins it I won't be surprised at all. Close games like that are normally decided on a single bounce or a single strike call. Whoever catches that break is likely to win. Horned Frogs are a talented team and a worthy opponent for a winner's bracket game for Omaha.