By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the veterans on the University of Virginia baseball team, a little turbulence is nothing new. The Cavaliers experienced plenty in 2015 before steadying themselves and making a stunning run to the NCAA title.
This season has brought more fluctuations, and 14th-ranked Virginia (17-9 overall, 5-4 ACC) will take a three-game losing streak into its weekend series with No. 23 NC State (17-8, 3-4) at Davenport Field. But there’s no panic inside the program.
“The guys that were on the team last year know what we went through,” sophomore Adam Haseley said Wednesday night after UVA’s 5-4 loss to ODU at Davenport Field.
“If anything, [adversity] brings the team closer. It has to, because we’re all kind of suffering through it. But it’s important to look on to the next game, and we’ll keep fighting and stay in there.”
As the Wahoos near the halfway mark of the regular season, head coach Brian O’Connor would love for his team to be more consistent. Still, O’Connor said, “I never look at it and say, `Well, I hope at the midway point we’re at this kind of record, or we’re here or there.’ I don’t like to put limitations on our guys. Because I think when you start to think that way, you limit them.”
Early last month, Virginia lost two regulars, senior Robbie Coman and freshman Jake McCarthy, to season-ending injuries. That’s contributed to the Cavaliers’ uneven play, as has their overall inexperience.
“The reality is, most nights we start four freshmen in our lineup, and true freshmen are inconsistent,” said O’Connor, who’s in his 13th season at Virginia. “There’s not many teams in the country that are competing at the level that we are that are lining up with four freshmen in their lineup.”
“That’s not an excuse,” he said. “We knew that [would be the case]. I would hope that we continue to improve and get better as the year goes on and we have more and more experiences.”
Leading 3-0 after seven innings Wednesday night, the `Hoos were on the brink a confidence-boosting victory. But ODU, aided by two UVA errors, rallied for four runs in the eighth. The `Hoos pulled even in the bottom half of the inning, only to surrender another run to the Monarchs (19-7) in the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Virginia sophomore Ernie Clement singled with one out, but closer Brett Smith retired the next two batters, junior Matt Thaiss (2 for 3) and sophomore Pavin Smith (1 for 5), to seal Old Dominion’s fourth straight victory in this series.
“Certainly we’re disappointed,” said O’Connor, who cited the errors as turning points.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a final thing or anything like that,” O’Connor said. “I don’t want to use that word at all, because certainly Daniel showed [against ODU] that he’s a pretty good pitcher for us.”
In his first midweek start, Lynch (1-2, 5.53) worked five innings, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out four.
“Finally,” said the 6-4 Lynch, who lasted only 1.1 innings last Saturday at Louisville. “I’ve been kind of beating myself lately, and just going out there and throwing strikes was really what was working. I felt comfortable in just putting the ball over the plate and letting [the defense] do the rest.”
Junior right-hander Connor Jones (5-0, 1.71 earned-run average) will start against the Wolfpack in Game 1 Haseley (5-0, 1.75) in Game 2 and sophomore right-hander Tommy Doyle (1-3, 5.00) in Game 3. The games are scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We’ve played three conference [series],” O’Connor said, “and I just thought it was important that we mix it up. I don’t know if it’ll stay. You’ve been around us long [enough to know that] how we start our rotation is never how it is in the middle or how it is in the end of the year.”
In Omaha, Neb., Haseley started Game 2 of the College World Series’ best-of-three championship series last, and he impressed, working five innings, then a career long.
He’s been sharp on the mound this season, too. In five midweek appearances, all starts, Haseley has struck out 20 and walked only seven in 25.2 innings. Opponents are hitting .172 against him.
“He’s done a nice job,” O’Connor said. “Where it gets real dicey is, the guy’s our starting centerfielder. He can’t pitch and play center field in the same game. It also makes it very difficult for him to play the outfield the day after he starts as well.”
Haseley, Virginia’s leadoff hitter, carries a .359 batting order. He has 10 doubles and three triples — both team highs — and two home runs.
It’s easy, O’Connor said, to “sit there and say, `Well, look at the guy’s [pitching] numbers, he should be starting on the weekend,’ but it affects a lot of things. It moves a lot of guys [around], which I’ve never been a big believer in. But based on the situation, we need to do this, and we’ll see it sticks or if we have to adjust it moving forward.”
Of becoming a weekend starter, Haseley said, “Nothing’s different. It’s just a different day you have to pitch.”
ACC series might be more intense than non-conference games, Haseley said, but “you can’t get too amped up about it. I still gotta go out there and do my job.”
Lynch said he’s learned from watching Haseley.
“He’s always so relaxed and so quietly confident in himself,” Lynch said, “and that’s the biggest thing. I had a lot of self-doubt and a lot of problems with having courage out there and not battling when I really should. And so watching him just be really relaxed in tough situations and not letting the game speed up, that’s a really great thing to learn from him.”
The ODU game marked the first time since March 5 that Lynch lasted more than 3.2 innings.
“Really what helped was all the support from the coaches and my teammates,” he said. “They really reminded me that I could do it and I could throw strikes. After a really bad start in Louisville, I had a talk with Coach O’Connor and some of the players, and they just really gave me the confidence back.”
Virginia won its first two ACC series — against Duke and Wake Forest — before dropping two of three games at Louisville last weekend. After the `Hoos won the opener 6-3, the Cardinals came back to win 11-4 and 15-0.
In the latest Baseball America rankings, the Cards are No. 4.
“Certainly it was a tough series at Louisville,” O’Connor said, “but in this league, sometimes if you go on the road in this league and you win one game, that can be a successful weekend. So I don’t look at last weekend as a super-big negative for our team. We’ve just got to keep playing the game hard, and hopefully we can get back on track Friday night against NC State.”
Haseley said: “We’re going to have to come out and have a lot of energy and a lot of focus, because this weekend does mean a lot, coming off of last weekend. We’re going to have to bring it.”