Tallahassee, Fla.- The No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (32-9, 16-5 ACC) will face their toughest test of the season this weekend when No. 1 Virginia (35-7, 16-5 ACC) comes to town for a three game series. The teams will face off Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (6 p.m.), and Sunday (1 p.m.) at Dick Howser Stadium. All three games will be available on ESPN3.
The biggest question entering this series is whether FSU will be able to score enough runs to compete. The Seminoles currently rank 11th in the country and first in the ACC with 294 runs scored, but FSU has, at times, struggled to score against quality pitching and Virginia boasts one of the most dominant staffs in the country.
Led by ace Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.36 ERA), the Cavalier’s pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.03, the third best in the country. Saturday starter Josh Sborz (4-2, 2.81 ERA) and Sunday starter Brandon Waddell (5-2, 2.93 ERA) round out the Cavalier’s formidable weekend rotation. The real strength of the pitching staff may be the bullpen though. Virginia’s top seven relievers in terms of innings pitched all have an ERA under 2.00. The star of the group is freshman right-hander Connor Jones. He has a 1.07 ERA, top in the ACC, in 42 inning pitched across 16 appearances.
The task of keeping the Seminoles close will fall to starters Luke Weaver (6-3, 2.83 ERA), Mike Compton (3-1, 3.70 ERA), and Bryant Holtmann (5-0, 3.24 ERA). The Seminoles will be without Brandon Leibrandt once again as he continues to recover from a bone contusion on his knee.
Control of the ACC will be on the line this weekend. The Cavaliers have not lost a series this season and the Seminoles only series loss came to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Last season Virginia swept the Seminoles in Charlottesville. Florida State will be looking to avenge that loss and reclaim their spot as the No. 1 team in the country.
X-Factor: FSU’s 7-8-9 hitters
Offensively FSU will need big weekends from their entire line-up. Left fielder D.J. Stewart enters the series with a .359 average, best in the ACC, but he will need help for FSU to compete with Virginia’s pitching staff.
A key factor in this will be Florida State’s 7-8-9 hitters. John Sansone, Ben DeLuzio, and Danny De La Calle will have to produce in order for the Seminoles to be successful. De La Calle has been the hottest hitter on the team lately going 12-of-21 (.571 avg.) over the last six games. The recent outburst has raised his season average from .171 to .238 and provided much-needed depth at the bottom of the line-up.
DeLuzio is the most dangerous base runner on the team and he has the potential to change the game if he gets on base. After the game Wednesday Head Coach Mike Martin talked about the importance of advancing runners into scoring position when there are no outs in the inning. DeLuzio’s speed plays a key role in the ability to do this. This was on display Wednesday when he was hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth inning. He then stole second and was moved to third on a groundout by Casey Smit. The next batter, De La Calle, drove DeLuzio in with a sac fly to right field. This ability to manufacture runs without the need for a big hit will be huge for the Seminoles against Virginia’s pitching staff.
Key Match-up: Luke Weaver vs. Nathan Kirby
The Friday night pitching duel between Weaver and Kirby has the potential to be one of the best match-ups of the season. Weaver has been Florida State’s top pitcher all season long, but he has struggled with consistency at times. Weaver is coming off a stellar performance last week when he threw a complete game against Wake Forest allowing only one run one three hits while striking out seven.
Kirby has been the top starter in the ACC this season. He is second in the ACC, behind only teammate Connor Jones, with a 1.36 ERA and is 8-1 on the season in 10 starts. He coming off a strong outing against UNC when he lasted seven and two-third innings and gave up only two runs on six hit while striking out 12.
-D.J. Stewart has reached base in 61 consecutive games dating back to last season, a school record. The record was previously held Shane Robinson, who reached base in 57 consecutive games over the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
– Virginia has won five straight games against Florida State. FSU leads the overall series 49-25 including a 26-5 record in Tallahassee.