Pitching Staff Leads 'Hoos into Final Week of Season


Since 2005, no college baseball program has a lower cumulative earned run average than Virginia. Over the past decade, UVa has ranked No. 1 in the country in team ERA once, and finished in the top three nationally in the category three additional times.

And head coach Brian O'Connor says this year's staff matches up to any of its predecessors during his time at UVa.

"Obviously we have three quality starters that are starting for us on the weekend. We have some really good depth in the bullpen. And we have high-quality starters in the middle of the week," O'Connor said Monday. "So based on their performance that they've given us up until this point, it's as good as we've had."

The Cavaliers enter the final week of the regular season ranked fifth in the country in team ERA, at 2.18 -- more than three-quarters of a run better than anyone else in the ACC. UVa wraps up the season with VCU at Davenport Field on Tuesday, then three on the road at Wake Forest, starting Thursday.

UVa is 4-0 since returning from a seven-day layoffs for final exams, including a three-game sweep of Georgia Tech this past weekend at Davenport Field.

The UVa bullpen was dominant against the Yellow Jackets, allowing just two runs (one earned) in 10 1/3 innings across the weekend. And O'Connor says the back end of that bullpen -- highlighted by junior closer Nick Howard (17 saves, 1.07 ERA) and senior Whit Mayberry (1.56 ERA in a team-high 24 appearances) -- is one of the Cavaliers' biggest weapons.

"I just think in all of college baseball these days, games are closer. Games are tighter," he explained. "And I just feel like in order to have consistent success at a high level, you've got to be really good at the end of the game. And when I say at the end of the game, it's the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning."

O'Connor said Monday that freshman Alec Bettinger (5-0, 1.17 ERA) would start Tuesday against the Rams. O'Connor said the rotation for the Wake Forest series hadn't been set yet, though he expected to make some changes as the Cavaliers try to align their starters heading into the postseason.

UVa has used the same three starters -- left-hander Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.62 ERA), right-hander Josh Sborz (4-3, 2.93 ERA), and lefty Brandon Waddell (7-2, 2.75 ERA) -- for every ACC weekend series this season. Senior right-hander Artie Lewicki (4-1, 1.62 ERA) could potentially start on Thursday, keeping Kirby on normal rest for Friday's game.

And O'Connor said Monday that teams with strong, deep pitching staffs are built to win in May and June.

"Oh, I think so," he said. "You look at what it takes to win NCAA Regionals. What it takes to advance to Omaha. What it takes to win in Omaha. And it is dominant pitching, and depth to it to."


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