The Virginia baseball team has a two-game lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division heading into the first weekend of April.
Immediately on UVa’s heels is tradition-rich Miami followed by Duke and Pittsburgh, a pair of programs with a combined NCAA Tournament drought of 72 years. Division cellar dwellers are North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech — all 2013 Regional participants.
Over on the Atlantic side, N.C. State, Baseball America’s preseason fifth-ranked team, has lost nine straight league games and has seen its RPI dip to 90.
Welcome to the Bizzaro World that is the ACC in 2014.
“It comes and goes,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said Wednesday following Virginia’s 10-0 rout of George Washington at Davenport Field. “We’ve had years like that, too. I think the depth of the league is pretty good. So that’s going to happen.
“It could happen to us at some point. So I don’t read too much into it. You got to believe a club like North Carolina, a club like N.C. State, they’ll be there in the end.
“We’ll just take every weekend, try to do our best and hopefully we can stay on top.”
The first-ranked Wahoos are 25-4 and 10-2 in the league entering today’s 3 p.m. series opener at Pitt.
A three-game set at Charles L. Cost Field probably wasn’t circled for high importance when the schedule was released in November, but, suddenly, the Cavs are due for a battle with the Panthers.
Pitt has surprisingly held its own to this point of its debut season in the ACC.
The Panthers were picked to finish last in the Coastal when the league’s coaches voted in February.
Currently, at 7-5, they’re in a tie for third, boasting home sweeps over Duke and Georgia Tech.
Pitt (15-13 overall) is 8-1 at Cost Field in 2014.
“Quite frankly, I’m not surprised one bit at what Pittsburgh’s doing,” O’Connor said. “I know their coach very, very well. They’re well-coached. They got a lot of tough kids.
“You look at the kids that we have in our program from Pennsylvania, we got some pretty good players from Pennsylvania and they’re tough kids. So it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Pitt’s Joe Jordano, a two-time Big East Coach of the Year, has a roster over half-filled with Pennsylvania products, including leading batter Dylan Wolsonovich (.310 average) and Saturday starter Joseph Harvey (2-1, 2.91 ERA).
As O’Connor alluded to, the Cavaliers are plenty familiar with Keystone State talent. All-American first baseman/left fielder Mike Papi (.354, five home runs, 26 RBI) is a Tunkhannock, Pa., native. Right fielder and reigning ACC Player of the Week Joe McCarthy (.294, two, 23) is from Scranton. Third baseman John La Prise (.410) is from Exton. Bullpen specialist David Rosenberger (1-0, 0.48 ERA) is from Bethlehem. Injured All-American left fielder Derek Fisher (.333, seven RBI) is from Rexmont.
“I’d rather have the Pennsylvania kids that we have than theirs,” junior infielder Kenny Towns, a Virginia native, said with a grin Wednesday.
The ‘Hoos have taken their last six ACC series. This will be Pitt’s first test against a top-5 team.
“It’s ACC baseball,” said UVa junior second baseman Branden Cogswell. “It’s a weekend. Every game’s going to be tough. You’re not going to be able to blow a team out every day. You got to look at it like any other ACC series. These games are more important. I mean these midweek games are important also, but you got to get those ACC wins.
“[Pitt is] doing very well in this conference, so it just shows what kind of quality team they have. So you got to look at it as any other thing.”
-O’Connor will be looking for more production out of his clean-up spot this weekend.
Brandon Downes has slumped to a .230 average, giving opponents the option to pitch around Papi in the three-hole.
Papi was walked four times against George Washington.
“Maybe he’s putting a little bit too much pressure on himself,” O’Connor said of Downes, a preseason All-American center fielder. “He’s a talented kid and sometimes guys go through this. He’ll figure it out.”
-Cogswell, who was hitting .200 on March 8, is making a case to be Virginia’s third straight ACC Player of the Week.
The Ballston Lake, N.Y., native went a combined 7-for-9 with three RBI against Old Dominion and GW. His average is up to .324.
“I got off to a slow start, but I was still hitting balls hard — just right at people,” Cogswell said. “You get down on yourself, it’s just going to extend your slump. You got to take a positive thing out of every at-bat and keep a positive attitude towards everything because eventually, in this game, things will come around.”
-Today’s game is the first between Virginia and Pitt since 1981. The Cavaliers lead the all-time series, 5-1.