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Game Plan: How tonight might need to go for UVA to stave off elimination again

college world seriesVirginia is 6-0 in elimination games in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and the ‘Hoos face another one Thursday night in the 2021 College World Series, the opponent being #2 seed Texas.

Tall order, considering – basically, casting no aspersions here, but it ain’t ODU or Dallas Baptist we’re talking about here.

Texas (48-16) is sending out a guy with a 9-1 record and sub-1.00 WHIP, whereas Brian O’Connor is having to go with a guy who lost his starting job two weeks ago, and has put up an 8.83 ERA since May 1.

This Virginia team has been in this kind of position before, and not just the past three weeks. Dating back to April 1, every game has felt like an elimination game for a team that was, at its nadir, 4-12 in ACC play, and as recently as May 4 was still just 22-21 overall.

How to get to Friday

Mike Vasil needs to go at least four

Vasil (7-5, 4.82 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 65K/17BB in 74.2 IP, .311 opponent BA) has, frankly, sucked since April 24, a stretch in which he has given up 18 earned runs in 18.1 innings (8.83 ERA) with a 2.62 WHIP and a 10/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and given O’Connor more than four and a third innings just once.

UVA doesn’t need him to pitch shutout ball into the eighth like Griff McGarry did in his last two outings off the scrap heap.

Four good innings, and it’s not going to be easy.

Texas has five guys with .400+ OBPs. They see a lot of pitches, which works up the pitch count of the starters, gets them into the pen early.

Vasil hasn’t had big issues with walks – 17 in 74.2 innings, a little over two per nine innings.

Keep Antico off the basepaths

Centerfielder Mike Antico has hit 10 homers, hits .271. OK, important guy to get out, but why does he get his own subhead?

Two reasons: .440 OBP, 40 stolen bases.

You don’t see a lot of guys at any level with 40 steals in a season, and keep in mind, he has 40 steals in 64 games.

That’s 101 in a 162-game MLB season.

Dude is Rickey Henderson, with leadoff power and the ability to turn a walk into a double or triple.

If he’s on first base, the game comes to a crawl. The pitcher and catcher are preoccupied, the middle infield needs to take account.

A similar issue arises in the eight hole with leftfielder Eric Kennedy (.257/.337/.360, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 18-of-22 SB/SBA).

Kennedy doesn’t have the OBP or pop of Antico, but he’s in effect a second leadoff hitting eighth.

Get to the starter early

And I mean this literally. Freshman lefty Pete Hansen (9-1, 1.79 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 74K/21BB in 85.1 IP, .199 opponent batting average) averages 2.22 walks per nine innings.

He’s around the plate. The first good pitch you see in an AB may be the one good pitch you see in that AB.

UVA used an aggressive approach against Mississippi State lefty Christian MacLeod, swinging early and often, to the point that he ended up at 33 pitches for the 11 batters that he faced before getting knocked out with one out in the second.

(And two of the outs were sac bunts.)

Texas has arms in the pen, but they’re more effective if they can go an inning or two in shutdown mode.

Get to Hansen early, get him out in the fourth or fifth, and Texas coach David Pierce is going to need to either stretch out the back end of his pen, or find a guy or two to give him middle relief as a bridge.

If Hansen himself is the bridge, that’s trouble.

Who does O’Connor go to after Vasil?

Vasil, as mentioned above, has only gotten out of the fifth once since late April. This requires planning ahead.

Haven’t seen hide nor hair of lefty reliever Brandon Neeck (2-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 40K/11BB in 23.1 IP, .225 opponent BA) since his scintillating 16-strikeout effort in the 8-3 win over ODU back on June 6.

Nor have we seen Stopper of the Year finalist Blake Bales (3-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 54K/15BB in 38.0 IP, .138 opponent BA) since he got a single out in the 3-2 win over South Carolina on June 6.

Dang, it would be nice to have either or both available tonight, though, the fact that neither was used Tuesday night signals that perhaps, not.

Kyle Whitten (0-1, 3.19 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 37K/19BB in 31.0 IP, .248 opponent BA) and Zach Messinger (3-2, 4.63 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 63K/21BB in 56.1 IP, .246 opponent BA) were both used Tuesday night, but not for a lot, so, they’re available.

Matt Wyatt (4-1, 3.49 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 49K/20BB in 38.2 IP, .238 opponent BA) might be your Friday starter, but that’s assuming there’s a Friday, which you can’t do.

Same applies to lefty Nate Savino (3-3, 3.79 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 34K/16BB in 54.2 IP, .269 opponent BA).

Wild card: Devin Ortiz (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9K/2BB in 6.0 IP, .143 opponent BA), who memorably went four scoreless in the 4-3 regional clincher over ODU on June 8.

He could spot start or give an inning or two in relief as needed.

Story by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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