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ACC Midterm Grades: Virginia

It is past the halfway mark in the ACC conference slate which means it's time for midterm grades to go out on all 14 ACC teams. We start with the Virginia Cavaliers, who currently sit in a three-way tie for second place in the Coastal Division.

Virginia started the season 8-0, which included an impressive sweep of the inaugural Jacksonville College Baseball Classic over Wichita State, Iowa, and Auburn. UVA had extended their non-conference regular season winning streak to 38 games before a loss to UMass on March 2nd ended the streak. So far this year, the 'Hoos have only lost a series at Miami and at Duke. And in each of those were able to salvage a win. After a gritty series win over Wake Forest, the wins over Pitt, UNC, and Louisville almost felt routine. UVA has 16 come from behind wins this year.

Offense: A+

The UVA offense, despite losing three monster contributors in Ethan O'Donnell, Jake Gelof, and Kyle Teel to the MLB Draft, has been among the nation's best. They currently lead the ACC and are second nationally in average and doubles and lead the ACC and are third nationally in runs scored. Their 571. slugging percentage is good for third in the ACC and 9th in the country, so any grade less than A+ for the offense seems wrong. Eight of their nine regulars are hitting over .300 and three hitters have double digit home runs. Virginia has scored double-digit runs in 20 over their 38 games this season.

Draft eligible sophomore Harrison Didawick and local freshman Henry Ford have anchored the lineup all year while providing the power vacuum left behind by Gelof and Teel. Division 3 transfer Jacob Ference got off to a slow start but has been red hot for about a month now, hitting .413 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and home runs in 29 games on the year. His breakout has mitigated the struggles of Ethan Anderson, who has started to look sharper in recent games, raising his average to .318 on the year. Sophomore Luke Hanson and freshman Eric Becker, who hit 8th and 9th in the UVA lineup, have combined to hit .354 with 3 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs while driving in 26 runs in their last 9 games. If that type of production continues, one of the nation's most dangerous lineups becomes even more daunting.

Rotation: C+

Virginia's weakness over the course of this season has been their pitching staff, but particularly their starting pitching. Sophomores Jack O'Connor and Bradley Hodges were expected to be weekend rotation stalwarts, but have since gotten hurt and been lost for the season. Jay Woolfolk, Cullen McKay, and Kevin Jaxel have each had shining starts before inconsistent outings derailed them. Only sophomore Evan Blanco has been able to provide consistent outings and is the only 'Hoo pitcher to start every weekend. The Massachusetts native is 4-1 with a 3.94 ERA over 45.2 innings pitched. A big reason for his success has been his ability to consistently throw strikes. The southpaw has only walked 11 batters all season while striking out 51. If one of the aforementioned names or the likes of Owen Coady, Bryson Moore, and Joe Savino can settle into the other two weekend rotation spots, then this UVA team becomes one of the favorites to not only go to Omaha, but to win the National Championship.

Bullpen: B-

The 'Hoos have seen inconsistently plague their bullpen as well, but someone always seems to step up and keep the UVA offense in striking distance. Blake Barker, Aiden Teel, Chase Hungate, and Woolfolk have all stepped up in different situations to deliver fantastic performances and allow Virginia to win ball games. Freshman Matt Augustin has been a pleasant surprise, taking advantage of the pitching woes to carve out a regular role, while Angelo Tonas has been outstanding in relief with a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings of work.

Overall: A-

Some Virginia fans may think this is a kind grade, but I'm not sure how you give a team that has yet to be swept and has won series over #10 UNC and #12 Wake Forest anything less than an A-. Say what you will about this pitching staff, but head coach Brian O'Connor and Virginia have time and time found ways to win ball games. And I wouldn't be surprised to see this pitching staff settle down a bit in the second half as Virginia chases a Top 8 National Seed. With a road series at Boston College and three home matchups with Georgia Tech, NC State, and Virginia Tech, the remaining schedule is very favorable for Virginia to take command of the Coastal and claim a Top 8 seed for the second consecutive year.

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