Takeaways: UVa, Rice, UCF, SamfordAnalysis
ORLANDO — Virginia has been waiting for Evan Sperling to get healthy, confident and effective. Sperling has surely been waiting, too. But it appears the wait is over.
Sperling was a highly touted recruit who showed up on campus injured, having had Tommy John surgery in June 2015, after his senior year of high school. He then had two knee surgeries while redshirting in 2016. The Cavs hoped he would be able to assume a weekend starter job in 2017, and he got off to a good start but then struggled with his command moving forward, finishing 3-3, 7.51 with 44 strikeouts and 30 walks in 38.1 innings.
He looked like a different pitcher in a Sunday victory against Rice, allowing just one hit and three walks over six shutout innings, striking out nine. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound righthander touched 92 with his fastball early on before settling in at 87-89, but Rice coach Wayne Graham said he generated very tough angles that made his fastball tough to hit, and he did a great job changing planes with the pitch. He also deployed a high-70s slurve as a swing-and-miss offering and mixed in a 73-74 curveball as a change of pace.
“I thought Sperling was terrific; that’s the best he’s looked in our uniform,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “So he’s finally back and healthy and has some experience, and hopefully that’s something he can built on. I thought his pace was really good on the mound, I thought he was throwing strikes, he was down in the zone. I don’t know what his fastball velocity was but it looked pretty good. He’s a big, tall guy, the ball can get on you a little bit, and he was dropping his breaking ball in there too. So it was more that he was pretty much commanding everything he had.
“I just think he’s had a little bit of experience, he’s got some confidence. His fastball command is a lot, lot better. His last start in our uniform at the end of last year against Dallas Baptist was a struggle for him. He had the whole offseason to work and think about that and get better, and he’s worked hard. We’ve seen signs in the postseason that he was close to putting it all together, and that was really encouraging.”