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It is pretty tough to improve when you are No. 1.

But Matt Packer is about to attempt to do just that.

After the leading the country in earned run average last year, the junior lefthander is back to attempt to do even more for the Virginia baseball team this year. Packer posted the fourth-lowest ERA in Virginia history last year with a sparkling 1.14 mark. He joined Seth Greisinger (1996) as the only two pitchers in school history to lead NCAA Division I in ERA.

“The goal that I have had ever since I was early in high school is to improve on my year from last year,” Packer said. “That might be tough this year. But I could get more saves or I could get more wins this year. I definitely wouldn’t mind having a repeat of my year last year.”

Packer, a nominee to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Preseason Player of the Year Watch List, has steadily improved in his time at Virginia. As the Sunday starter his freshman year, he went 3-3 with a 4.22 ERA in 64 innings. Last year, he moved primarily to the bullpen and was lethal, going 6-3 with a 1.14 ERA in 71.1 innings. He allowed just nine earned runs and 15 walks all season while batters hit an ACC-low .202 against him.

“The first year was more like a humbling year,” Packer said. “The second year was where I really began to mature and now this is the year where I need to put everything together.”

“Matt did a great job as a freshman in our weekend rotation, which is rare in a top league like the ACC,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “Since his rookie year, he has made significant improvement in his velocity and secondary pitches. He has a lot of poise and moxie on the mound, which allows him to make the big pitches to win for his team. Matt is the most versatile pitcher on our staff and will be a major contributor to the success of our team again this year.”

Despite all his success last season, Packer is not about to let his ERA title get to his head.

“It’s more that it’s something cool,” Packer said of the distinction. “It’s not something that I go around and tell people about, but it’s always nice to know that you are the best at something.”

Packer will need to continue to pitch well this year, as the Cavaliers boast a young roster of 23 underclassmen, including 12 freshmen. It also means that Packer, now an upperclassman, is one of the team’s veterans.

“I’ve got to step up and help lead the team,” Packer said. “I’m not really vocal by nature, but I try to be a leader by how I pitch. When I do say things, I do it in private to specific guys.”

Packer continued to throw well during Virginia’s fall intrasquad season, where he pitched for the Blue squad and earned the win in the deciding game seven of the hotly-contested Orange and Blue World Series.

“The most fun thing about it was the bragging rights that came with it,” Packer said of the series. “But it was mainly big for our freshmen, just to see how we play in real games. It’s a good taste for what the season is really like.”

The regular season is now here for Packer and the Cavaliers. Despite the team’s youth, the Cavaliers still return four of their top six hitters from last season, which is a big key according to Packer.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” Packer said of the team’s youth. “If everybody improves on how they played last year, we won’t have any problems at all especially the hitters in our lineup. We’re going to have a tough lineup.”

The Cavaliers begin ACC play this weekend at Wake Forest. UVa’s home ACC schedule opens with a bang, as 2008 NCAA College World Series competitors Florida State (March 13-15) and Miami (March 20-22) come to Davenport Field.

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