The Maryland baseball team makes its first appearance in the NCAA super regionals this weekend with a three-game series against Virginia. To find out a little bit about the Terps' opponent, we traded emails with Andrew Ramspacher, who covers the Cavaliers for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. You can read more of Andrew's work on the Cavalier Insider blog and follow him on Twitter @ARamspacher.
The teams play Saturday and Sunday at noon and Monday (if necessary) at 4 p.m. All three games will be at Virginia's Davenport Field and are scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.
Tracking the Terps: This is obviously a pretty interesting storyline up here: Maryland is leaving the ACC, and on their way out the door, the Terps are having this great baseball season. But who stands in the way? Virginia. What do people down there think of all this?
Andrew Ramspacher: The baseball people have used all the standard, politically correct lines when asked the question about the irony of this series. U.Va. coach Brian O'Connor responded: “I think that’s a good question. I think that’s for you all to write about. Personally, and I know our players, there won’t be anything put into that, quite frankly. We’ve never played for revenge or other ancillary things that are outside what takes place on the field."
But fan-wise, there's definitely some venom. Virginia baseball, like many ACC programs, doesn't have Maryland on its schedule for at least the next two seasons. When I posted such on Twitter the other day, I got fan responses of "No ACC school should ever schedule UMD again" and "Wonder if MD baseball thinks those early season games in Minn & Iowa will be as fun as at Miami & FSU? #goacc."
So, with all that stated and how quickly this series sold out, it should be a fun weekend at Davenport Field.
Virginia always has good baseball teams and is used to playing on this stage. How does this year’s squad stack up to some of the teams in recent years? Are there any weak spots?
This bunch, star-studded with three potential first round draft picks, was preseason No. 1 and held that ranking for nine of 15 weeks in the regular season. Pitching-wise, these Cavaliers are as good as O'Connor has had in his 11 seasons.
Nathan Kirby, the likely Saturday starter, is an All-American. Artie Lewicki, No. 2 in the rotation, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and is throwing as hard as he's ever thrown, posting 95 mph on the radar gun recently. Brandon Waddell, the No. 3, was last year's No. 1 — for a 50-win team. Throw in a bullpen highlighted by Nick Howard, a righty one save away from setting the ACC single-season mark, and you got a lethal staff.
And the weird thing is offense was supposed to lead this team. Eight starters returned from a squad that batted .312 in 2013, yet the lineup struggled and hit .277 this regular season. The NCAA regional was a different story, though. U.Va. scored 22 runs and had 29 hits in three games. If the lineup reaches its potential, I don't see many teams stopping the Cavs — this weekend or in Omaha.
Maryland’s calling card is its starting pitching, and Virginia gave up just three runs in its regional. If these are close, low-scoring games, does that play into the hand of a Cavaliers team that has way more postseason experience?
Virginia has lived on the edge in 2014, playing 20 one-run games. But, apparently, the Cavaliers are comfortable with that. They went 14-6 in those contests. (One of those losses was 7-6 to Maryland in the ACC tournament.)
I think experience will help. For the bulk of this U.Va. team, this will be their second appearance in a Super Regional. The three seniors — pitchers Whit Mayberry, Artie Lewicki, Austin Young — were on the 2011 College World Series team.
Obviously, a clutch pitch or clutch hit can determine a close game. With Mayberry and Howard on the back end of U.Va.'s bullpen, I like the Cavaliers' chances.
Nick Howard, who is from Olney, is listed pretty high on most of the mock drafts. Tell us a little bit about him.
A utility player for his first two seasons, Howard has found a home as a closer. Although he'll still occasionally get in the lineup as a designated hitter (see a 4-for-4 performance against Maryland in the ACC tournament), the junior has primarily been Virginia's driving force from the bullpen.
He's got incredible velocity — has topped out at 98 mph — and he can back it up with hard breaking stuff. I would expect him to go in tonight's first 34 picks of the draft. And if somehow pitching doesn't work out at the next level, Howard's talented enough to regroup and give hitting a try again. As a third baseman/shortstop, he batted .323 with three home runs and 38 RBI in 2013.
Aside from Howard, can you give us one key player from Virginia who bears watching this weekend?
John La Prise. The sophomore third baseman/designated hitter has quietly become U.Va.'s hottest hitter. After a mostly irrelevant freshman season (six hits in 35 at-bats), La Prise batted over .400 in the Northwoods League over the summer and has come back to Charlottesville on the same kind of roll.
La Prise went 7 for 12 in the regional, upping his 2014 batting average to .383. There's not a lot of power to his swing (see one home run, nine doubles), but he manages to always find a hole in the infield. That's some weapon for a lineup's No. 7 hitter.