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Birdball Weekend Preview - #1 Louisville

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The tough stretch to open ACC play continues for the Eagles as they travel to Kentucky to take on the top-ranked Cardinals

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

After Boston College’s opening ACC series at #2 Florida State started with such promise, an 8-5 win over the Seminoles on Friday night, the Eagles were summarily dispatched in the following day’s doubleheader by a combined score of 24-1. And, believe it or not, the road actually gets tougher this weekend as BC travels to Kentucky to take on the #1 ranked, and undefeated, Louisville Cardinals. Let’s take a closer look at everything in store this weekend:

Game Location:

Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky

Game Times:

Friday, March 17th @ 6pm ET vs. Louisville

Saturday, March 18th @ 1pm ET vs. Louisville

Sunday, March 19th @ 1pm ET vs. Louisville

Projected Starters:

Friday: BC: So. RHP Jacob Stevens (2-0, 1.75 ERA) vs. LVILLE: Jr. LHP Brendan McKay (3-0, 0.50 ERA)

Saturday: BC: Fr. RHP Matt Gill (1-3, 8.31 ERA) vs. LVILLE: Jr. RHP Kade McClure (2-0, 2.08 ERA)

Sunday: BC: So. LHP Dan Metzdorf (1-2, 4.71 ERA) vs. LVILLE: Fr. LHP Nick Bennett (2-0, 0.56 ERA)

How to Watch/Listen:

All three games versus Louisville will be aired on ACCN Extra via ESPN3 and WatchESPN. Links for all three games can be found on the schedule page for baseball at BCEagles.com. For those in the Louisville area, all three games will also be broadcast by the Louisville Baseball radio team on 93.9 FM “The ‘Ville.”

What you should know about the Louisville Cardinals:

Louisville, which this week was ranked #1 by Baseball America for the first time ever, comes into this weekend’s ACC series with a perfect 16-0 record, the only team in either major poll that has yet to a lose a game in the 2017 season. Head coach Dan McDonnell really has his Cardinals team playing well to start the year, as the offense boasts a .344 team batting average and, not to be outdone, the pitching staff has combined for a 1.75 ERA. While Louisville’s success is a team effort, there is no question about who leads them: Brendan McKay.

McKay, a junior from Darlington, Pennsylvania, is the early season favorite to win ACC Player of the Year and National Player of the Year and will likely be a first-round pick in June’s MLB Draft. So what exactly does McKay do for the Cardinals? Well, everything. As Louisville’s Friday-night starter, he’s racked up a miniscule 0.50 ERA, with three wins and no losses. Opponents are hitting a paltry .133 off the left hander and he’s struck out 29 batters with only five walks, while not allowing an extra base hit on the season. What is most impressive, however, is that McKay has accomplished this while also hitting a scorching .548 with four homeruns and 16 RBI, as Louisville’s four-hole hitter. There really is no better two-way player in the nation, meaning the Eagles will have to content with him all weekend long.

Even without McKay, the Louisville pitching staff and offense are impressive in their own right. BC’s hitters will be facing two other quality arms in Kade McClure and Nick Bennett this weekend. Both are undefeated, with McClure sporting a 2.08 ERA, and Bennett, only a freshman, sitting at an impressive 0.56 in 16 innings pitched. The Cardinals also have one of the best closers in the ACC in Lincoln Henzman, who has not given up a run in five outings while collecting three saves. Opposing batters are hitting .038 off the right hander.

Offensively, the Cardinals, astoundingly, have nine players, who have played in 11 games or more, hitting .300 or above. Beyond the aforementioned McKay, BC’s pitchers will need to be careful with junior infielder Drew Ellis, who has started the season strong by hitting .392 with four homeruns, leading the team with 18 RBI. Outfielder Logan Taylor is another offensive weapon for Louisville, as he has hit .386 in the early going with 16 RBI. Taylor is especially dangerous on the base paths as he leads the team with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts. Shortstop Devin Hairston is also highly dangerous at the plate, hitting .345 with a home run and 18 RBI, while starting every game for the Cardinals.

What you should know about the Boston College Eagles:

Coming into this weekend’s series, the Eagles sport a 6-8 record overall, having lost their last two games by a combined score of 24-1. However, prior to those two contests, the Eagles were actually playing pretty well, coming back to beat Toledo 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning in the Snowbird Classic, and beating Florida State 8-5 in last Friday’s ACC opener. What spelled doom for Mike Gambino’s squad last Saturday, as chronicled in the series recap, were walks and free bases. Look for that to have been the focal point of this week’s practice time which, with the blizzard and cancellation of school on Tuesday, was limited to Wednesday and possibly a short workout this morning before heading to the airport.

Though much of the struggles of last Saturday fall on the collective shoulders of the pitchers, the staff still boasts one of the top pitchers in the conference, if not the nation in sophomore Jacob Stevens. Stevens enters his Friday night matchup with Brendan McKay with some pretty impressive numbers of his own, as the right hander is 2-0 on the season with a 1.75 ERA, limiting opposing hitters to a .198 batting average. As has been the case all year, he will be joined in the weekend rotation by freshman right hander Matt Gill and sophomore lefty Dan Metzdorf, who will both be looking to rebound from disappointing starts against Florida State. Look for Jack Nelson, Carmen Giampetruzzi, Jake Alu, and Donovan Casey to get more work out of the bullpen this weekend, as all four proved themselves capable relievers last Friday night, combining to shut the door on the Seminoles.

Offensively, the Eagles took a step backward last Saturday after a great showing on Friday night. As a team, they are now hitting .231 with a mediocre .275 slugging percentage. Leading the way is two-way player Donovan Casey who is hitting .296 with two doubles and five RBI. Behind him is sophomore catcher Gian Martellini, batting .283 with five doubles and 10 RBI, good for second on the team. Senior Michael Strem may be the most consistent hitter on the team, going hitless in only three games so far this season, while compiling a .276 average and nine RBI. The Louisville pitching staff does not walk many batters, so the Eagles’ hitters can expect lots of pitches in the strike zone and can hopefully bring up their overall numbers this weekend by putting a lot of balls in play.

Prediction:

I will not sugarcoat it: Louisville will be a tough team to beat on the road this weekend. They have a bevy of talented players all over the field and one of the best pitching staffs in the country. With that said, Florida State is also a tough team to beat on the road, and BC bested them on Friday night last weekend. So, it can be done. As mentioned in the Florida State recap, if BC can take just one game at Louisville, they will put themselves in pretty good position heading into their first home ACC series and beyond. The tough part is deciding which game this weekend the Eagles have the best shot at winning. Usually (as I predicted correctly last weekend), I’d say it’s whichever game Jacob Stevens is pitching, and I have the urge to do that again now. However, I see Stevens earning a no-decision on Friday, as he will be going up against one of the best pitchers in the nation in Brendan McKay. I see him leaving the game on Friday night after seven complete innings with the score locked at 0-0, or perhaps 1-1, meaning that he won’t be in line for a win or a loss. Instead, I think the Eagles take the Sunday game as Dan Metzdorf rebounds from a less-than-stellar outing at Florida State and the Eagles’ hitters get to Louisville freshman starter Nick Bennett, early. Saturday could also be a possibility for the Eagles if freshman Matt Gill attacks the Cardinals’ hitters with his fastball. Regardless of the outcomes of this weekend’s games, look for Louisville to put a lot of balls in play, as the BC pitching staff will likely focus on throwing strikes and pitching to contact after last weekend’s 26 walks. I’ll say that BC takes one of three games this weekend and heads home at 2-4 in the ACC, with a great opportunity to jump into the Atlantic Division race when Clemson visits Chestnut Hill next weekend.