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Birdball Weekend Preview - The 19 Ways Invitational

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Birdball travels to Norman, Oklahoma to take on former BC head coach Pete Hughes

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

With the first series of the year under their belt, the Boston College baseball team returns to action this weekend in the “19 Ways Invitational” hosted by the University of Oklahoma. After three disappointing one-run losses to Bethune-Cookman a week ago, the Eagles will look to put a few in the win column this weekend as they take on the Northern Illinois Huskies, Villanova Wildcats, and host Oklahoma Sooners. Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about this weekend’s action:

Game Location:

L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Oklahoma

Game Times and Opponents:

Friday, February 24th @ 1pm ET vs. Northern Illinois

Saturday, February 25th @ 4:30pm ET vs. Villanova

Sunday, February 26th @ 1pm ET vs. Oklahoma

Projected Starters:

Friday: BC: So. RHP Jacob Stevens (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. NIU: So. RHP William Anderson (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Saturday: BC: Fr. RHP Matt Gill (0-1, 13.50 ERA) vs. VILL: Jr. RHP Ryan Doty (0-1, 21.45 ERA)

Sunday: BC: So. LHP Dan Metzdorf (0-1, 6.23 ERA) vs. OKLA: So. RHP Dylan Grove (0-0, 1.69 ERA)

How to Watch/Listen:

You can follow all three of the Eagles’ games this weekend on Gametracker, found on the schedule page for Boston College baseball on BCEagles.com. Sunday’s contest against the Oklahoma Sooners will also be streamed online by FOX Sports Radio, a link to which can also be found on the schedule page for Boston College baseball at BCEagles.com.

What you should know about the Northern Illinois Huskies:

Head coach Mike Kunigonis’ squad has already played four games on the season and enter this weekend’s tournament with a 1-3 record. The Huskies were swept on opening weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, losing two games to Chicago State, and one to South Dakota State, before earning their first victory of the season on Wednesday over Chicago State back in Illinois. The Huskies finished 2016 with an overall record of 24-32, which included being swept in a four-game series by BC to open the season, but finished 14-10 in the MAC, earning them the fourth seed in the MAC Conference Tournament. The Huskies return a number of key players the Eagles will have to contend with in order to win their opening game of the tournament Friday afternoon.

Leading the Huskies’ offense is junior second baseman Brad Wood. On the young season, Wood is hitting .462 with two RBI in 13 at bats. He has also tacked on two doubles in the early going, and boasts a .615 slugging percentage. Joining Wood atop the Huskies offense are junior infielder Jesus Tovar III and junior catcher Michael Roberson. Tovar III enters this weekend’s competition hitting an even .400, totaling six hits in 15 at bats, while adding two RBI. Roberson, though only playing in two games so far this season, has made the most of his plate appearances and is batting .500 for the year. In his four official at bats, Roberson has hit safely twice, including a double, and has also added three walks and a hit by pitch, for an on base percentage of .667.

On the mound, the Eagles will face 6’8 sophomore William Anderson. Anderson, NIU’s Friday starter, was roughed up in the Huskies’ season opener against South Dakota State, giving up six runs, three of them earned, in only three innings of work. Although, to this point, his statistics are not impressive, the Eagles will need to be disciplined at the plate, and cut down on their strikeouts, to be successful against the big righty.

What you should know about the Villanova Wildcats:

In the Saturday game, BC will again take on an opponent they faced, and beat, in 2016. The Eagles topped Villanova 11-10 in a thrilling 12 inning game a season ago at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida. Head coach Keven Mulvey’s squad is off to a rough start in 2017, dropping all three contests in their opening weekend to Norfolk State by a combined score of 27-11. The Wildcats finished 2016 with an overall record of 20-32 and a 5-13 mark in the Big East, however, as the Eagles saw last year, Villanova will come to the park ready to play.

Offensively, Villanova will rely on three players to get their offense going: senior second baseman Todd Czinege, senior right fielder and leadoff man Donovan May, and junior catcher Brandon Campos. Czinege comes into this weekend’s tournament only hitting .230 for the season, but will be a force in middle of the Wildcats order throughout the season. May is the table-setter for Villanova, and enters the 19 Ways Invitational with four hits in 14 at bats, including a pair of walks and three RBI. Campos is currently the Wildcats’ leading hitter, having tallied three hits in nine at bats for a .333 batting average, while also assuming the everyday catching duties.

BC will face junior right hander Ryan Doty on Saturday at L. Dale Mitchell Park. Doty gave up five earned runs in 2.1 innings of work a week ago, in a losing effort. Those numbers are deceiving, as they can be this time of year, as Doty is a better pitcher than that, tallying a 3-4 record in 2016 with a 4.97 ERA.

What you should know about the Oklahoma Sooners:

The Eagles stiffest competition of the weekend comes with a familiar face. Pete Hughes, the head coach of the Sooners, held the same position at Boston College from 1999 until 2006, where he coached current BC head coach Mike Gambino. After leaving the Heights in 2006, Hughes became the head man at Virginia Tech in 2007, and brought Gambino on staff in Blacksburg. While there will be plenty of good-natured fun between the two staffs this weekend, Sunday afternoon will be all business, as the Eagles will need to bring their A-game to pull an upset of the host Sooners.

On the year, Oklahoma boasts a 4-1 record, with a season-opening series win over formerly-ranked (#17) Long Beach State. Offensively, the Sooners have five players hitting .300 or above, led by senior infielder Jack Flansburg. The Orange, California native is hitting a blistering .571 for the year with eight hits in 14 at bats, including a double, triple, homerun, and four RBI. Right behind Flansburg is senior infielder Austin O’Brien who is batting .467 through five games, with two doubles and three RBI. Oklahoma has a deep and talented lineup that the BC pitching staff will need to be extremely careful with on Sunday afternoon.

On the mound, the Eagles will face sophomore right hander Dylan Grove. Grove was sharp in his first outing of the year versus Long Beach State, throwing 5.1 innings and allowing only one earned run to go along with seven strike outs. However, Grove does have the tendency to get behind in counts, as he issued three walks a weekend ago, and when he did, Long Beach State made him pay, lighting him up for a double and a triple. Gambino’s squad can expect another good outing from Grove and the rest of the Sooners’ bullpen, which boasts a team ERA of 2.80.

What you should know about the Boston College Eagles:

First and foremost, last weekend is over. Three losses are not the way any team wants to start their season, but, it is time to move on. Coach Gambino mentioned in his weekly press conference that while he hated the results, there were certainly bright spots that came out of the sweep at Bethune-Cookman. The biggest one, obviously, was the continued dominance of Jacob “Bear” Stevens. The sophomore put together and outstanding outing a week ago, throwing six shutout innings, striking out nine, while only issuing one walk. Other highlights included younger players, like Brain “Brock” Dempsey coming through with a go-ahead pinch hit RBI single, stepping up early in their careers. Offensively the Eagles were led on the weekend by Michael Strem, who recorded four hits in his first 14 at bats of the season, including two doubles. As a team, however, the Eagles hit .193 for the weekend and left 28 runners on base, eight of which were in scoring position. That was most certainly a point of emphasis during practice this week, as was playing clean defense. Gambino reiterated this week that he is not concerned by the lack of offense this early in the season, as it generally takes guys a week or two to warm-up, and he is confident the hits will start to come very soon.

This weekend on the mound, the Eagles are making a change. Stevens, as always, will start on Friday, and sophomore Dan Metzdorf will again throw on Sunday, however, freshman right hander Matt Gill will get his first collegiate start as he takes the ball on Saturday versus the Villanova Wildcats. Gill replaces junior Brain Rapp in the Saturday role after Rapp lasted 2.2 innings a week ago versus Bethune-Cookman. Gill made one appearance last weekend, throwing two innings of relief on Saturday, giving up three earned runs and three walks. However, the big righty from Avon Old Farms impressed during the offseason and will look to cement a spot in the rotation with a solid outing this weekend.

Prediction:

Last weekend I was overzealous. It was the season opener, I was excited and I made the clichéd mistake of judging a book by its cover. In laymen’s terms, I said that Bethune-Cookman was a good program in the MEAC and that Boston College, from the big bad ACC, would roll into their place and take three games. While I still believe BC could have, and should have, won that series, I will try to be a little more levelheaded this time around. When I look at the schedule for the 19 Ways Invitational, I see some games BC should undoubtedly win. While none of the teams the Eagles play will be pushovers, I believe that BC has the talent and depth to win this “weekend series.” If Stevens can even somewhat replicate his start from last Friday against NIU, BC will win. If the offense can string together a few extra hits against a struggling Villanova team, BC will win. And, if the Eagles can play a complete game of baseball (situational hitting, limiting walks, clean defense etc.) on Sunday versus Oklahoma, they have a good shot to knock off the host Sooners. My heart says to predict the sweep, but my head is telling me to be conservative. I was burned last week by picking on emotion, so I’ll say the Eagles will play well all weekend and leave Norman 2-1 (though, don’t be surprised if they go 3-0) with wins over NIU and Villanova.