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Boston College Baseball Weekend Preview - Notre Dame

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The longtime rivals will square off in a pivotal three-game series that has postseason implications for both teams

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

After 48 games, including nine conference series, the 2017 regular season will come to an end this weekend as the Boston College baseball team wraps up its ACC schedule with a pivotal three-game set against arch-rival Notre Dame. Both teams enter the series fighting for their postseason lives, with the Irish in slightly better position than the Eagles, as they hold a two more conference wins. While both could potentially make it to Louisville, it is possible the winner of this series gets in and the loser heads to summer ball. So, with that as the backdrop for this weekend’s contests, let’s take closer look at this matchup:

Game Location:

Shea Field, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA

Game Times:

Thursday, May 18th @ 2:30pm vs. Notre Dame

Friday, May 19th @ 1:30pm vs. Notre Dame

Saturday, May 20th @ 1pm vs. Notre Dame (Senior Day/Shea Field Farewell)

Projected Starters:

Thurs: BC: So. RHP Jacob Stevens (4-6, 5.25 ERA) vs. ND: Jr. RHP Brad Bass (3-7, 4.10 ERA)

Fri: BC: So. LHP Dan Metzdorf (4-5, 3.95 ERA) vs. ND: r-Sr. LHP Michael Hearne (4-4, 3.82 ERA)

Sat: BC: Jr. RHP Brian Rapp (3-3, 3.74 ERA) vs. ND: Jr. RHP Brandon Bielak (2-6, 5.19 ERA)

How to Watch/Listen:

All three of this weekend’s contest against Notre Dame will be covered on Gametracker and broadcast on WZBC via the TUNEIN Radio App. Links to both coverage options can be found on the baseball schedule page of BCEagles.com.

What you should know about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

Leading Notre Dame into Chestnut Hill is a familiar face to all who follow Boston College baseball: Mik Aoki. For those who have only recently begun to follow the Eagles, Aoki was the Head Coach at BC from 2007 to 2011 and took Boston College to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 40 years, in 2009. This year, however, he and his Fighting Irish squad come into the final weekend of the regular season with an overall record of 26-27, including a 10-17 mark in the ACC, needing a few wins to solidify their spot in the postseason.

Offensively, Notre Dame is twelfth in the conference in hitting, one spot below BC, as they’ve accumulated a .247 batting average for the year. Leading the way at the plate for the Irish is outfielder/pitcher Matt Vierling who leads the team in batting, with a .333 average, homeruns, with seven, and RBI, with 39. The sophomore has also started every game this season for Notre Dame. Behind Vierling is outfielder Jake Johnson who is hitting an even .300 on the season, while adding a pair of homeruns and 20 RBI in 48 starts. The Irish have another power threat in their line up in infielder Kyle Fiala, as the senior is batting .279 with five homers and 32 runs batted in on the year. While their overall offensive statistics are in the bottom-three of the conference, the Eagles can take nothing for granted in this winner-take-all type of weekend.

On the mound, the Irish have had a decent season, compiling a 4.30 team-ERA, while allowing opposing hitters to bat .260 off them. On the weekend, the Boston College lineup will face a solid rotation of Brad Bass, Michael Hearne, and Brandon Bielak, all of whom have logged over 65 innings on the year. While none have a winning record (Bass is 3-7, Hearne 4-4, and Bielak 2-6), they are still talented arms, as their wins and losses may actually be a product of Notre Dame’s somewhat pedestrian lineup. The Eagles will also likely face lefty Sean Guenther at some point on the weekend, as the junior is one of the Irish’s most talented relievers, earning a 2.39 ERA in 22 appearances, including seven saves.

What you should know about the Boston College Eagles:

Despite entering the final series of the regular season four games below .500 with a 22-26 record, Head Coach Mike Gambino has his Boston College team in position to play their way into the postseason, with a little help. If the Eagles can take the series from the Irish, while other teams take care of business around the conference, Gambino will lead BC to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 2009/2010, ironically enough, when Mik Aoki was at the helm.

Offensively, the Eagles have begun to swing the bat better as the season has gone on, raising their team average to an even .250 and upping their on base percentage to .339. Pacing the Eagles’ offense is sophomore utility player Jake Alu who leads the team with a .320 batting average. Behind Alu is catcher Gian Martellini. The sophomore backstop has caught fire during the last month of the season, raising his average to .306, while adding a team-leading five homeruns and 33 RBI. Two-way player Donovan Casey has also had a nice year at the plate, as the junior is hitting .282 with a pair of home runs and 19 RBI to go along with a 3.65 ERA in 19 appearances on the mound. Also, keep an eye on second baseman Jake Palomaki to be a thorn in Notre Dame’s side this weekend. The junior is Boston College’s all-time walks leader and gets on-base more frequently than anyone on the team.

On the mound, the Eagles struggled at times early this year, thanks in part to injuries and a tough opening slate in the ACC, but have rebounded in the second half of the season to drop their team-ERA to 5.12. Taking the ball this weekend will be the same rotation of Jacob Stevens, Dan Metzdorf, and Brian Rapp that Gambino has stuck with since mid-march. All three have been dominant at times this season, and will look to put together three solid outings in a row against their rivals from South Bend in order to propel their team into the postseason. It will be an “all hands on deck” type of weekend for the Eagles, as all available pitchers could see time on the mound given the must-win situation facing Boston College.

Prediction:

Let me say this right off the bat: I will not be making a prediction on this weekend’s series. Sorry, but it just doesn’t feel right. There is already so much going into this weekend, from the postseason implications, to Senior Day, to the closing of Shea Field, to the fact that this is all taking place against our heated-rivals and former coach Mik Aoki that my prediction doesn’t seem to matter. Instead, I want to say a few things about this Boston College team, this season, and Shea Field. First of all, love ‘em or hate ‘em, Birdball sure knows how to make things interesting. Be honest, how many of you out there actually thought BC would get themselves (possibly)within a series-win of the postseason following the debacle that was the UNC series, when they sat 1-14 in the ACC? How many? Probably very few, if any. Now, there’s no guarantee that a series-win prolongs BC’s season, but that’s almost beside the point with this team. At the halfway mark of the season when BC was 9-20 (1-14) it would have been really easy for the players and coaches to pack it in and play for next year. They didn’t, thanks in large part to the effort of the seniors and upperclassmen to keep everyone together and focused on the task at hand, and I can think of no better send off for them than sweeping Notre Dame at home to punch their ticket to Louisville.

Secondly, as to this season as a whole, considering the obstacles this team faced, from injuries to 26 straight away games, to be in this position is incredible. Obviously, everyone would like to be securely in the postseason at this point and vying for an NCAA Tournament seed, but with all that’s happened since the end of last season and the loss of some truly great players, making the postseason at all seems like a win.

Finally, I do want to say a few words about Shea Field. As most of you know, with construction underway on the new Brighton Campus “stadium” (still not happy), Saturday’s contest will be the last one ever played at what has become affectionately known as ‘The Birdcage.’ While Shea Field has endured its share of mockery in being the “worst facility in Division I baseball,” for those who played on it, it will always be home. Coach Gambino mentioned in his weekly press conference that, those people who have never played at Shea just can’t understand, and that’s not a slight at those folks. Instead, what Gambino, a former BC player himself, was eluding to was the fact that for the players, even though the weather is often terrible at home, and the football team practices on the outfield during the week in the fall, and tailgaters liter the field with beer cans, chicken wings, and bodily fluids on Saturdays, and there’s a ramp instead of bleachers down the first base line, Shea Field created a unique home-field advantage that cannot be forgotten by anyone who donned the Maroon and Gold. Seeing the parking garage filled with rowdy, solo cup-waving students on a sunny afternoon, and hearing their cheers as we beat UNC in 2009 to earn our first trip to the ACC tournament is something I’ll never forget. And while the addition of an upgraded facility is sure to help BC in every facet of the program, part of every Birdball Alum will always miss weekends at the Birdcage.

Now that the sentimental stuff is out of the way, I will say I expect this to be a hard-fought weekend. Although Notre Dame is currently “in” as it pertains to the postseason, they know a series sweep at the hands of BC could find them left out, so, expect them to play like their backs are against the wall this weekend, even if they aren’t. As for Boston College, well, they have nothing to lose, so look for them to go hard at the Irish in all three games, fighting until the last out. It’s going to be a big weekend on the Heights, so let’s get it going.