Home Omaha Preview: What UVA Baseball fans need to know about North Carolina

Omaha Preview: What UVA Baseball fans need to know about North Carolina

Chris Graham
uva baseball unc
Photo: UVA Athletics

UVA took two of three from North Carolina when the teams met in Charlottesville back in early April, but that was so long ago that Evan Blanco was still the #2 starter in Brian O’Connor’s rotation.

Blanco, pitching the middle game of the three-game set, held UNC to two runs on six hits in six and a third innings in the 7-2 win, and by the next weekend, O’Connor had elevated him to the #1 starter spot.

The other two starters in that series, Cullen McKay and Kevin Jaxel, have been out of action pretty much since – McKay has pitched five times for a total of five and two-thirds innings, his most recent appearance coming in the May 8 midweek win over George Washington; Jaxel went one inning in a start the following weekend at Louisville in which he gave up five runs, then went two and a third in a relief outing in the Georgia Tech series.

That Virginia won two out of three while O’Connor was still figuring out his rotation says a lot about the job that he’s done with this team this season.

Carolina pitching

UVA will likely get the #1 starter, freshman righthander Jason DeCaro (6-1, 3.89 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 72Ks/40BBs in 85.2 IP).

DeCaro started and took the loss in the Blanco game, his only loss of the season, giving up five runs on six hits in six innings of work, striking out five and walking two.

DeCaro has made three starts already in the 2024 postseason, going four and a thirds innings in Carolina’s 11-8 walk-off win over Long Island in the regional opener, then going two innings in the do-or-die regional clincher over LSU, and going deeper in the win over West Virginia that got UNC into the CWS, giving up a run on two hits in six and a thirds innings.

Just in case UNC coach Scott Forbes decides to give DeCaro a little more rest, considering his recent workload, we should take a look-see at the #2 starter, Shea Sprague (3-1, 4.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 64Ks/16BBs in 74.1 IP), who started Game 3 of the teams’ April series.

That was the game that UNC won, 12-7. Sprague officially got a no-decision, not getting to the five innings needed as a starter to get the win, but he pitched well – holding Virginia to three runs, one earned, on seven hits in four and a third innings, striking out five.

The 6’3” junior, a transfer from Elon, has only pitched into the sixth inning in one of his past five starts, and in UNC’s 8-6 walk-off win over West Virginia in Game 1 of the Super Regional, he was tagged for five runs, four earned, on seven hits in five innings of work, striking out six batters.

Bullpen arms to watch:

  • Lefty closer Dalton Pence (4-1, 8 saves, 2.04 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 71Ks/27BBs in 53.0 IP).
  • Righty Matthew Matthijs (12-4, 3.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 55Ks/16BBs in 56.2 IP).
  • Righty Ben Peterson (3-2, 4.97 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 28Ks/19BBs in 29.0 IP).
  • Righty Matt Poston (5-2, 5.25 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 50Ks/17BBs in 36.0 IP).

The lineup

Four guys have an OPS over 1.000, five have double-digit home runs.

The name you might remember from the April series is junior centerfielder Vance Honeycutt (.314 BA/1.111 OPS, 26 HRs, 65 RBIs, 28 steals), who was 4-for-13 in the series with a two-homer game in the 7-2 loss in Game 2.

The other bats to watch:

  • First baseman Parks Harber (.341 BA/1.076 OPS, 20 HRs, 63 RBIs)
  • Leftfielder Casey Cook (.339 BA/1.041 OPS, 18 HRs, 76 RBIs)
  • Rightfielder Anthony Donofrio (.338 BA/1.016 OPS, 7 HRs, 52 RBIs, 19 steals)
  • Third baseman Gavin Gallaher (.337 BA/.944 OPS, 8 HRs, 38 RBIs)
  • DH Alberto Osuna (.285 BA/.925 OPS, 14 HRs, 56 RBIs)
  • Catcher Luke Stevenson (.283 BA/.966 OPS, 14 HRs, 58 RBIs)

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].

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