UM Set for Pivotal 3-Game Set With UVA

The Hurricanes will go into their three game series this weekend facing a team whose place in the ACC pecking order mirrors their own. The difference between the Canes and their counterparts, the Virginia Cavaliers, is that the two teams got to where they are in very different ways.

Miami came into the season with huge expectations. They were returning many of last year's key contributors and they were adding All-American catcher Peter O'Brien. Many felt they could end the season in Omaha.

Now, they find themselves on the outside of the regional hosting conversation and toward the bottom of the top-25 polls as they have hit the skids recently in ACC play.

Virginia came into the season with much more modest expectations. No program that has made the College World Series two out of the last three years can be taken lightly, but it was clear that this Virginia team was shorter on talent than, say, the 2011 team or the 2009 team.

And, yet, they have put together a pretty good season. They sit at 28-14, one game in the win column better than Miami and 11-10 in the ACC, just one game behind the Hurricanes.

Virginia, as they have been in recent years, is led by its pitching staff.

That begins with their starting rotation. Brandon Kline, a wily veteran, sets the tone on Friday nights. He has a 5-3 record with a 3.38 ERA. In 66.2 innings, he has struck out 68 hitters. Batters are only hitting .232 against him.

On Saturdays, Scott Silverstein has been just as good even though his 2-4 record doesn't show it. He has a 3.22 ERA and while he isn't striking out as many hitters as Kline, his batting average against of .218 is better.

The Sunday starter, Artie Lewicki, isn't as good as those two, but he's not someone you can afford to take lightly. He's 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA. He isn't overpowering, but his control is exceptional. He has only walked 13 in 46 innings. The bullpen includes six pitchers with ERAs of 4.50 or lower, led by Shane Halley (1.93 ERA, .182 BAA) and Justin Thompson (1.33 ERA, 7 saves). Runs for UM, particularly with Peter O'Brien on the shelf, will be hard to come by to say the least.

Offensively, they are led by the diminutive Stephen Bruno. He's hitting .373 with four homers and 37 RBI. In 169 at-bats, he has only struck out 12 times. He is also second on the team with nine steals.

Senior Jared King, who has been on both of Virginia's recent College World Series teams, is having yet another solid season. He's hitting .329 with three home runs and 40 RBI. He's getting on base at a .479 clip and leads the team with 12 steals.

Freshman Derek Fisher is giving O'Connor a taste of what is to come in the rest of his career by hitting .295 with a team-leading six home runs. You also can't overlook veterans Colin Harrington (.294, 21 RBI), Chris Taylor (.279, 4, 34) and Keith Werman (.274, .392 on-base).

This is a gut-check weekend for the Hurricanes. Their season is beginning to slip away. They are tumbling down the top-25 rankings and with another series loss, they will probably be out of them altogether. Even more importantly, another series loss will put them out of the hosting mix for good and could even start a slide that could end with them being back on the tournament bubble.

I've been wrong about this team a lot as of late, but I think they come out ready to play. They know what's at stake and being back at home will help. I'm looking for the Hurricanes to win two of three.

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