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Birdball Weekend Preview - #17 Wake Forest

The Eagles are heading to Tobacco Road for a pivotal ACC series with the red-hot Demon Deacons

Image courtesy of BCEagles.com
BCEagles.com

As we enter the home stretch of the 2017 baseball season, the Boston College Eagles are fighting for their postseason lives, making each of their final six ACC games even more important than they usually would be. After dropping a home series to Miami a weekend ago, BC rebounded on Tuesday with a 6-1 win over in-state foe UMass Lowell behind stellar pitching performances by Jack Nelson and the Eagles’ bullpen. This weekend, Boston College faces a tough task in beating the 17th ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons on the road in Winston-Salem. Let’s take a closer look at this weekend’s action:

Game Location:

David F. Couch Ballpark, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

Game Times:

Friday, May 5th @ 6pm ET vs. Wake Forest

Saturday, May 6th @ 4pm ET vs. Wake Forest

Sunday, May 7th @ 1pm ET vs. Wake Forest

Projected Starters:

Fri: BC: So. RHP Jacob Stevens (4-5, 4.52 ERA) vs. WAKE: Sr. RHP Parker Dunshee (7-1, 3.93 ERA)

Sat: BC: So. LHP Dan Metzdorf (2-5, 4.65 ERA) vs. WAKE: Jr. RHP Donnie Sellers (3-3, 4.37 ERA)

Sun: BC: Jr. RHP Brian Rapp (2-2, 3.83 ERA) vs. WAKE: Sr. RHP Connor Johnstone (6-0, 3.07 ERA)

How to Watch/Listen:

All three of this weekend’s contests at Wake Forest will be covered on Gametracker, as well as streamed online on ACCN Extra via the WatchESPN app. Saturday’s game can also be heard on the TUNEIN Radio App and on WBNW 102.9 FM and 1120 AM for those in the Chestnut Hill area. Links to all coverage options can be found on the baseball schedule page of BCEagles.com.

What you should know about the Wake Forest Demon Deacons:

Head Coach Tom Walter has his Demon Deacons team rolling in 2017 to the tune of a #17 national ranking and a 30-13 overall record, including a 13-8 mark in the ACC. They are currently a lock to make both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments and now have their sights set on earning one of 16 regional host spots, but will need to finish the regular season on a strong note to do so. In their way are the visiting Boston College Eagles.

Offensively, Wake Forest crushes the baseball, plain and simple. They are second in the ACC with a .314 team batting average and are also second in the conference in homeruns, having belted 74 of them in 43 games this season. They trail on Virginia Tech, which has hit 75, in that category, and are 15 ahead of the third-place team, Georgia Tech, which has 59 long-balls on the year. Leading the charge at the plate for Wake is outfielder Jonathan Pryor. The senior is hitting a scorching .388 on the season and leads the team with 17 doubles. Pryor has also added three homeruns and 27 RBI while starting every game this year for the ‘Deacs. Behind Pryor are Stuart Fairchild, Jake Mueller, Ben Breazeale, Johnny Aiello, and Gavin Sheets, who are all hitting above .310 and have combined for 48 homeruns and 207 RBI. While all five of those players are great hitters, the two that really stand out are Aiello and Sheets. Aiello, a sophomore infielder, is hitting .333 on the season with 15 homeruns and 39 RBI. Sheets, a junior infielder, has also hit 15 homeruns, but leads the team, and the conference, with an astounding 63 runs batted in. Needless to say, the BC pitching staff has its work cut out for it this weekend in Winston Salem.

On the mound, the Demon Deacons have been solid this year, as they have a 4.19 team-ERA, good for eighth in the conference, and hold opposing hitters to a .248 batting average. The Eagles will face a trio of talented arms this weekend when they square-off with Parker Dunshee, Donnie Sellers, and Connor Johnstone. The three have combined for 16 wins on the year, and none have an ERA above 4.40. Dunshee has been particularly sharp this season, as the right hander has struck out 76 hitters, while only issuing 16 walks, in 66.1 innings of work. Sunday’s starter, Johnstone, has also enjoyed a good season, as his holds the lowest ERA in the rotation at 3.07 and has given up the fewest extra-base hits in the most innings pitched.

What you should know about the Boston College Eagles:

Though this season has had its highs and lows, Head Coach Mike Gambino has his Boston College Eagles in contention for a berth in the postseason. Although they sit at 18-24 overall, and 7-17 in conference, a strong finish in their final two ACC series will earn the Eagles a spot in Louisville for the ACC Tournament. To get there, however, BC will more than likely need to take at least one game from Wake Forest this weekend, something that not many teams have been able to do in Winston-Salem.

Offensively, Boston College enters this weekend’s series with a .249 team-batting average with two players in the lineup hitting above .300. While Wake Forest’s offense relies on hitting homeruns, BC will play small-ball and hit station-to-station to win games. Leading the way at the plate for the Eagles is utility player Jake Alu. The sophomore leads the team with a .328 batting average and has added seven doubles, 13 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 34 starts this season. Behind Alu is freshman Jacob Yish who was inserted into the everyday lineup three weeks ago and has since matured into one of the Eagles’ best hitters, as he is currently batting .308 with a double and eight RBI. Catcher Gian Martellini is the biggest power threat in the BC lineup, as the sophomore is batting .289 with a team-leading four homeruns, two triples and 30 RBI. Donovan Casey has been productive for the Eagles both at the plate and on the mound this season, as the junior has compiled a .283 batting average with two homeruns and 18 RBI, while also holding a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings pitched for BC. Also, keep an eye on junior Jake Palomaki this weekend against Wake Forest. The second baseman missed significant time this season with a hamstring injury and is finally close to one hundred percent. Look for him to be a catalyst at the top of the Eagles’ lineup this weekend, getting on base against a talented Demon Deacons rotation.

On the mound, BC pitchers have compiled a 5.16 team-ERA and are allowing opposing hitters to bat at a .261 clip. Gambino will roll out the same weekend rotation that he has since the midpoint of the season with Jacob Stevens on Friday, Dan Metzdorf on Saturday, and Brian Rapp on Sunday. Stevens has been the workhorse of the staff this season and has thrown some gems in his 12 starts. He has also been the bearer of some hard-luck losses in games that he pitched well but did not get the run support he needed. Metzdorf, a lefty, has been a pleasant surprise this season, after being a matchup specialist a year ago. The sophomore has, at times, looked like a frontline starter and will look to show that capability this weekend. Brian Rapp has also been a great addition to the rotation this season, as the junior has turned in some of the most dominant outings on the team, including a complete game shutout of NC State two weeks ago and a strong seven-inning win over Miami this past Sunday. All three will need to be on their A-game this weekend if they want to stifle the firepower of the Wake Forest lineup.

Prediction:

I’m going to write something in a moment that needs a disclaimer, so that readers don’t think I’m crazy. Here is the disclaimer: I truly think Wake Forest is a very good offensive team. OK, good. Now that you all understand that, let me say this: a lot of their gaudy numbers are due to the fact that their field, David F. Couch Park (formerly Gene Hooks Field), plays as small as a cracker-jack box. It’s the same concept that I mentioned in regard to English Field at Virginia Tech, except the Demon Deacons have a good pitching staff to go along with their offense, hence their 30 wins compared to Tech’s 20. For whatever reason, even though the dimensions of the field itself are “normal,” the ball flies out of there quite easily. However, even with that added help, as I said in my disclaimer above, they are still a very good offensive team. I believe if they played their home games somewhere else, they’d still be successful because they pitch very well and play good defense. I just don’t think they’d be second in the nation (as they currently are) in homeruns and seventh in nation in scoring (8.3 runs per game) playing at a different park. Realistically, though, everything I just brought up does not matter because, like it or not, this series is being played at David F. Couch Park and BC will have to find a way to limit Wake’s offense if they want to win. And, yes, they need to win. I’ll point out what most of you already know: the Eagles need to win at least one game this weekend. As I laid out in my ACC Tourney post earlier this week, more than likely, Boston College needs to win four of its final six ACC games to earn a spot in Louisville, meaning, that a sweep at the hands of Wake Forest, would all but eliminate them from postseason contention, barring something extraordinary happening elsewhere in the conference. Can they do it? Can they pull out one win, and maybe more? I think they can. It will not be easy. We’ve seen BC struggle against power offenses this season and this may be the most powerful they’ll face all season, but I have faith. When Jacob Stevens is on and is working down in the zone, he is very tough to hit. The same goes for Metzdorf and Rapp. Now, I believe Wake will score some runs. So the question becomes, can the Eagles keep pace? I think if they can hold the ‘Deacs to four or five runs in one or more of this weekend’s games (which has happened this season, despite their stats), the park plays small enough where BC can actually play the “power” game as well, something that has not been their forte this season, and scratch out a 6-5 or 5-4 victory. In closing, it will not be easy, but it is possible and they only need one to keep hope alive.