The Virginia baseball team hasn't started NCAA regional play with a loss in six years. And the Cavaliers will give the ball to senior righty Artie Lewicki on Friday, as they try to extend that winning streak in regional openers to six in a row.
"I made the decision to start Artie Lewicki tomorrow because Artie Lewicki earned the right, for what he's done in this program for four years, and what he's done this year," UVa coach Brian O'Connor explained at Thursday's pre-regional press conference at Davenport Field. "I believe he's pitching as good of baseball as anybody we have on our pitching staff."
The Cavaliers open up this year's Charlottesville Regional at 2 p.m. Friday against Patriot League champion Bucknell. UVa enters this year's NCAA Tournament as the No. 3 national seed in the 64-team field.
Lewicki will take the mound on Friday with a 5-1 record and 1.99 ERA in 10 appearances this season, including eight starts. He took a no-decision after giving up four runs in five innings in his last start, the Cavaliers' 7-6 loss to Maryland in last week's ACC Tournament opener.
Lewicki is 3-0 in three starts at Davenport Field this season, with just three hits allowed in 15 shutout innings.
"It's a little bit of studying your opponent," Lewicki said of his approach to Friday's start. "I think it's more staying in the same routine that you've stayed in the whole season, and treating it the same as you would treat opening day, middle of the year, or now toward the end of the year. But the next 24 hours is just going to be the same 24 hours as last weekend, and the week before that, so on and so forth."
Bucknell will take the field on Friday with a 30-19-1 record on the season, one win shy of tying the school record for the most in a single season. The Bison won both the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles this spring.
Scott Heather and his players are also relatively familiar with their opponent on Friday. The Bison visited Davenport Field in March of 2013.
"I've always been impressed with the way their team plays defense. They've always been kind of built on that first," Heather said of the Cavaliers. "But this team, probably more than other teams we've faced in the past has that deep lineup, with a lot of quality bats in that lineup. So impressive all around."
"They have a lot of the same team, so I don't know," said junior outfielder Anthony Gingerelli. "We're looking forward to it. It should be a really, obviously we're playing a really competitive team. I know we're going to come out, guns blazing and ready to play. And it should be a fun time."
UVa has advanced to an NCAA Super Regional in three of the past four years, with 2012 the lone exception. This year's team has been a popular pick to reach the College World Series in Omaha since beginning the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
But O'Connor says it's key that his team treats this weekend like it's business as usual.
"I think it's important that our players and our coaches, you don't get caught up in the moment," he said. "It's simple to sit here and say it's just another ballgame. It's more than just another ballgame tomorrow. But we need to have the same mentality that we've had all year. Because it's been pretty darn good. It's gotten us to where we are right now."
"This year we've worked hard. We've had our ups and downs," said UVa junior infielder Branden Cogswell. "This week's been a great week of practice, and we're excited. I think we're prepared. We're going to go out, we're going to have fun. We're going to play our game, and do our best."