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UVa baseball team has plenty of youth, pitching questions

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Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:18 pm | Updated: 8:59 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Against a blue field hockey canvas, baseballs skipped off the turf, picking up white snow before being swallowed by gloves.

So it wasn’t your ideal scene for the start to Brian O’Connor’s 10th season at Virginia, but the Cavalier skipper will take it.

Wahoo baseball? It’s back.

“I think the weather today is great,” O’Connor said with a smile Friday at Davenport Field before heading down to University Hall Turf Field to kick off the Cavs’ first practice. “It presents the first challenge to this team. And they have a choice — they can pout and feel sorry for themselves because we’re not on their field or they can get some good work in and get better today.

“This weather is like the challenges we’re going to have this season.”

Which will begin in three weeks with a three-game set at East Carolina, where it was a not-so-balmy 30 degrees on Friday.

Virginia, ranked 25th in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, features another loaded team for 2013, but one that’s highlighted by its youth and pitching questions.

The Wahoos are made up of 74 percent freshmen or sophomores. That’s 25 of the 34-man roster.

But don’t call them “young,” said sophomore left fielder Derek Fisher.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said the reigning Freshman All-American. “Last year, we were a young team as well. We lost some incredible guys that unfortunately I wasn’t able to play with [players] like Danny [Hultzen] and [Steven] Proscia and Kenny Swab and all those guys. We lost a great amount and that was the knock on us last year, that there was going to be some inexperienced guys that were going to step into some big roles.

“This year, everybody’s going to say the same thing and we’re going to be better than we were last year and get better as the year goes on and see what happens.”

With that attitude in 2012, UVa was able to rattle off 39 wins and advance to its ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament.

The kids were a big reason why.

Several rookies contributed last season, including Fisher, who batted .288 with a team-leading seven home runs and 50 RBIs, catcher Nate Irving, who batted .279 with 35 RBIs and center fielder Brandon Downes, who batted .321 with 22 RBIs.

As many as six sophomores could be a part of O’Connor’s opening day lineup.

“It’s pretty unreal to think that my first year is already gone,” Fisher said. “College is definitely going to be what everybody says it’s going to be and it’s going to be gone before I know it.

“Experience-wise, I feel a lot better. I feel very comfortable, which is probably why I feel so experienced. I feel acclimated to the system, something I had to do last year pretty quickly.

“Fortunately, last year some younger guys got some experience. Now, this year we’re going to be in a pretty big role.”

On the mound, it’ll be an open competition between young and old.

When asked about what his starting rotation will look like come the Feb. 15 opener at ECU, O’Connor said he has “no idea.”

The Cavs, thanks to departing starters Branden Kline and Shane Halley, closer Justin Thompson and an injury to starter Artie Lewicki, will be forced to test out different arms for different situations in 2013. Pitching candidates include junior left-hander Kyle Crockett, senior lefty Scott Silverstein and freshmen lefties Nathan Kirby and Brandon Waddell.

The foursome has a combined 19 career college starts.

“What we have in front of us, in regards to our pitching, is something that we really haven’t encountered as coaches since we’ve been here,” O’Connor said. “There’s so many unknowns. I love our talent. I think there’s some really good talent. They just lack experience, but that’s OK. Maybe that’s better off, maybe they don’t know any better.

“They will continue to take shape as the year goes on.”

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