After a rain-soaked week that saw one of their games get postponed and another moved, the Boston College baseball team returns to ACC play this weekend as they finally open up Shea Field for a home series against the fourth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. The last outing for the Eagles went well, as BC downed Northeastern 5-1 in the Beanpot Semifinals, punching their ticket the Championship Game at Fenway Park on April 19th. This weekend, however, will present a somewhat tougher challenge as UNC will be the fourth top-ten team the Eagles have faced so far in conference play. Let’s take a closer look at this weekend’s matchup:
Eddie Pellagrini Diamond at Commander Shea Field, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Friday, April 7th @ 2:30pm ET vs. UNC
Saturday, April 8th @ 1:30pm ET vs. UNC
Sunday, April 9th @ 1pm ET vs. UNC
Friday: BC: So. RHP Jacob Stevens (2-3, 3.89 ERA) vs. UNC: Jr. RHP J.B. Bukauskas (5-0, 0.96 ERA)
Saturday: BC: So. LHP Dan Metzdorf (1-4, 4.26 ERA) vs. UNC: Fr. RHP Luca Dalatri (2-2, 2.61 ERA)
Sunday: BC: Jr. RHP Brian Rapp (0-0, 2.32 ERA) vs. UNC: TBA
How to Watch/Listen:
All three of this weekend’s games will be covered on Gametracker as well as streamed online by WZBC via the TUNEIN Radio App. Saturday’s game against the Tar Heels will also be broadcast on WBNW 102.9 FM and 1120 AM for those in the Chestnut Hill area. Links to follow all of this weekend’s action can be found on the baseball schedule page of BCEagles.com.
What you should know about the North Carolina Tar Heels:
Head Coach Mike Fox has put together a solid Tar Heel squad in 2017, and has guided them to a 22-6 overall record, with a 9-3 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina has not lost a conference series all season, and most recently swept then-#12 Florida State, in Tallahassee last weekend. In short, this is a very talented and motivated Carolina team.
Offensively, the Tar Heels have compiled a .262 team batting average, putting them in the middle of the pack in the ACC, but have belted 28 homeruns, with each everyday player having launched at least one round-tripper. Leading the Heels at the plate is shortstop Logan Warmoth. The junior is batting a team-high .331 on the season, with five homeruns and 15 RBI. He also leads his team in on-base percentage with a .416 mark. Behind Warmoth is junior Brain Miller. The first baseman is hitting at a .307 clip and has contributed three homeruns of his own to go along with 14 runs batted it. He is also tied for the team-lead in doubles with seven. Freshman Ashton McGee is having a nice start to his career for North Carolina, as the infielder is hitting .301 with four homers and 21 RBI. The Tar Heels may not impress with their combined batting average, but their lineup definitely has some pop, as noted by their homerun total, and will present a challenge for the BC pitching staff throughout the weekend.
North Carolina boasts one of the best pitchers in the nation and one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC. Friday starter J.B. Bukauskas is on the short-list for National Pitcher of the Year, and will likely be a first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft, and rightfully so, as the right-hander has compiled a 5-0 record with a 0.96 ERA in seven starts this season. The Heels’ staff behind Bukauskas is also very talented, as evidenced by their team-ERA of 2.45, which is good for second in the ACC. After Friday afternoon, the Eagles’ hitters will continue to have their hands full, as they face freshman Luca Dalatri. The 6’6 right-hander has thrown well in his first year in Chapel Hill, earning a 2-2 record with a 2.61 ERA in seven starts. BC will need to be aggressive against the youngster and capitalize off any mistakes he may make in order to be successful on Saturday.
What you should know about the Boston College Eagles:
This weekend has been a long time coming for Head Coach Mike Gambino and his Boston College squad, as Friday will mark the first time all season the Eagles will be afforded the opportunity to play at home, on Shea Field. To this point in the year, the weather has forced BC to play its first 26 games away from campus, and in those 26 games, the Eagles have amassed an overall record of 9-17, including a 1-11 performance in the ACC. Perhaps the “change of scenery” will do BC some good this weekend as they host one of the top teams in the nation.
The Boston College bats have come to life lately, as the lineup raised its combined batting average nearly 15 points in the last two weeks to .235. A large part of this upward trend has been due to the play of outfielder/pitcher Donovan Casey and utility-man Jake Alu, who have both been on fire as of late. Casey, a junior, is leading the team in batting with a .310 average and most recently, on Wednesday, blasted his second homerun of the season against Northeastern, tying him for the team-lead in that category. Alu has also been red-hot, as the sophomore has raised his batting average nearly 100 points in the last seven games to .296, while driving in 10 runs on the year. Behind the pair is sophomore catcher Gian Martellini who is batting .283 with seven doubles, two homeruns, and a team-leading 16 RBI. While the BC offense has been improving as of late, and scoring more than usual, they’ll need to find a way to manufacture runs this weekend against the vaunted Tar Heel pitching staff who does not give up many.
The Eagles will send the same trio to the mound this weekend as they have the previous two. Sophomore Jacob Stevens, sophomore Dan Metzdorf, and junior Brian Rapp will all look to stifle the UNC lineup and give their team the opportunity to upset the Heels. The right-handed Stevens will look to get back to his winning ways, as his last two starts have not gone in his favor. Metzdorf will also look to get back to the form his showed two weeks ago against Clemson, when he held the Tigers scoreless through six innings, while striking out four. Rapp has been one of the more dominant BC pitchers this season, combining in his last two starts for 14 innings pitched while only giving up two runs and striking out 16 opposing batters. His performance on Sunday will be a big factor in the series outcome this weekend.
My last few weekend predictions have not turned out so well, with me missing the mark in every weekend series dating back to Louisville. So, with that in mind, I’m going to take a step back, relax, and approach this series from another angle this weekend. Instead of predicting the outcome of the series, I’m going to highlight the three most important areas for BC to have success in this weekend, if they want to upset the Tar Heels. Sound fair? Good.
Number One - Ride out the storm that is J.B. Bukauskas: Carolina’s ace is one of the best pitchers in the country, on par with Brendan McKay of Louisville and Charlie Barnes of Clemson and, because of that, don’t be surprised if the Eagles struggle to put runs on the board early in Friday’s contest. However, BC should still put a priority on making the junior work during his innings on the mound. By that I mean, the Eagles’ hitters should, as always, be aggressive on fastballs in the zone, but shouldn’t be afraid to go deep into counts, thereby making Bukauskas elevate his pitch-count. From what I’ve seen of the righty, he can run his fastball into the mid-90’s and has a sharp breaking ball. He does have a changeup that he’ll use against righties, but it’s not nearly as effective as his other two offerings. Generally, with two strikes, he’ll either go to the breaking ball off the plate, or elevate a 93 mile per hour fastball in the hopes of getting the batter to chase. If the Eagles can be disciplined enough to lay off those two pitches and routinely run counts to 2-2 or 3-2 throughout the first six innings of the game, Mike Fox will have a hard time sending out his ace for the seventh or eighth inning with a pitch-count over 100, meaning BC will have the last few innings to try and put something together off of the Tar Heel bullpen. Now, all of this is contingent on Boston College getting a solid performance on the mound from Jacob Stevens to keep the game close, which brings me to my next point…
Number Two - Avoid the big inning: Last week against Virginia Tech, and the week before that against Clemson, BC was felled on Friday night by “big-innings.” The Hokies scored seven runs in the sixth to blow open what was, at that point, a 5-3 game, and the Tiger scored five in the first two innings to jump in front of the Eagles for good. We can debate the merits of VT’s seven runs, as the wind and English Field definitely played a role in putting that number on the board, and we can discuss how Clemson’s Seth Beer was the beneficiary of the Eagles shift to the pull side and the wind as well, but the fact remains that big innings are killers. North Carolina’s offense, while not statistically on par with Virginia Tech or Clemson, is very good. I don’t foresee many balls leaving Shea Field this weekend, as BC’s home turf usually plays pretty large, but the BC pitching staff needs to be smart when facing the middle of the Tar Heel order. One base hit cannot turn into a “doubles-parade,” as it has at times this season, and there can be no let-up with two outs. Stevens, Metzdorf, Rapp, and the rest of the Eagles’ bullpen need to do a really good job of working down in the zone, forcing a lot of groundballs, and letting their defense work behind them. Sometimes, when pitchers try to do too much, they’ll miss their spots and end up having to throw a 2-0 or 3-0 meatball that inevitably turns into a base hit for the opposition. In short, BC pitchers need to force contact down in the zone early and often this weekend, in order to be successful.
Number Three - Keep the “midweek mindset” at the plate: I noted in my midweek preview that, during the 2017 campaign, one area in which the BC offense has been relatively consistent is their ability to beat up on midweek pitching. Nine hits against Northeastern, 11 against UMass, and 11 hits again yesterday all came from the same guys who will step into the box against UNC this weekend. I understand that most folks will see that last statement and say, “No duh. It’s Northeastern and UMass, their pitching isn’t nearly as good as North Carolina’s,” and that’s true. It’s not as good. But, I can tell you, Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical,” is dead-on accurate. What I mean by that is, as a hitter, a majority of your success is going to come because of your confidence at the plate, no matter if the guy on the mound is throwing 75 or 95. If step into the batter’s box with a clear plan in your head about what you’re looking for and what you want to do, it won’t matter who is on the mound. Watching the BC lineup this season, it has looked like, at times, the Eagles’ hitters have been passive, overthinking the pitches coming their way and over estimating the guys who throw them, to the point where fastballs over the meat of the plate are being taken for third strikes. Instead of falling into that trap against Carolina, BC needs to employ their “midweek mindset” of no fear, hunting fastballs and taking a hack at anything that comes into their zone. Because this is baseball, it is possible for BC to put 81 balls into play this weekend, striking out zero times, and is still be swept. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But, that performance would be better than the alternative, letting the UNC pitching staff dictate each at bat, putting the Eagles’ hitters on their heels the entire weekend.
There may be more areas in which the Eagles will need to excel to upset the Tar Heels, but, in my opinion, these are the three most important for a Boston College team in desperate need of an ACC win. Now, without further ado, let’s head up the parking garage ramp and enjoy some baseball at Shea Field…