Boston College vs. #8 North Carolina State
Friday: 3 PM
Saturday: 3 PM
Sunday: 1 PM
A valid criticism of Boston College's 10-2 start to 2016 is that the level of competition hasn't been that great. The Eagles didn't exactly play national powerhouses, and they handled business with only a couple of hiccups along the way. Their only two losses were to a deceptively good North Dakota State team and a Butler team that put together a big day of hitting. All of that changes this week.
After the feel-good first couple of weeks launched BC to their best start since 1977, the stakes raise considerably this weekend. In what will be their final games before a home game next week, the Eagles take on the NC State Wolfpack. It's the first ACC games of the season, and it comes against a current Top 20 team that went to the national tournament last season. They're ranked anywhere from #8 in the D1baseball.com poll to 13th in the NCBWA rankings.
Feeling good about the games and having fun? That's all in the past. It's time to get real. If Boston College wants in on the ACC Tournament, the road starts this weekend, in true road games, against an incredibly tough opponent.
Record: 12-2 (0-0 ACC)
Last Time Out: NC State enters this weekend on a nine-game winning streak. They last lost the opener of a three-game series against Wright State. Since then, they beat Wright State twice, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington, Niagara, Alabama, Bucknell, and Fairfield twice. Niagara, Alabama, and Bucknell were part of the Irish Classic.
NC State last played on Tuesday and Wednesday, shutting down the Stag offense with a pair of pitching performances. The Wolfpack swept those two games with a 4-2 and 4-0 result.
Around The Horn
This is an incredibly talented NC State lineup. Chance Shepard's homered in six straight games, and he's hit one out in seven consecutive games played at Doak Field. He's the two-time defending ACC Player of the Week and was named National Player of the Week last week. His 18 RBI lead the team, and he already has 41 total bases to himself.
It would be tough enough that was the only thing anyone had to worry about.
The best all-around player for the Wolfpack is probably Andrew Knizner, a name that will be one to watch on draft boards this year as he becomes draft eligible for the first time in college. At .389, he already has 21 hits, two homers, nine RBI, 28 bases, and a .476 on-base percentage. To give you an idea of how dangerous a hitter he is, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) jumps nearly 50 points to .431. When he puts the bat on the ball, good things tend to happen.
Brock Deatherage, Joe Dunand, Shane Shepard, and Josh McLain - all dangerous. They're either hitting over or at .300.
The Eagles are going to counter with their depth offense. Like the Wolfpack, the Eagles are bringing in several players hitting .300 or higher to start the season. Joe Cronin really came on during the Snowbird Classic, raising his batting average to .372 with 14 RBI. As good as Knizner's been, the Eagle captain's actually been comparable, entering this weekend with a better BABIP by ten points (.441). Cronin's also scored 11 runs, good enough for second best on Birdball.
Beyond Cronin, Donovan Casey's continued to have huge development. His 15 hits are tied with Jake Palomaki for second on the team, but he leads the team in runs scored with 12. His BABIP stands at .405, just behind his teammate as BC's best hitter thus far.
Along with Cronin and Casey, four other starters are entering the weekend hitting .300 or better: Nick Sciortino, (.333), Michael Strem (.319), Logan Hoggarth (.308), and Jake Palomaki (.300).
On The Bump
Two years ago, Mike Gambino positioned his ace, Andrew Chin, as his Saturday starter. In 2016, NC State will be doing that against the Eagles when Brian Brown, last year's team ace, throws Game Two against Jesse Adams.
That gives BC a favorable matchup in the first game of the series. Mike King enters the weekend with a 2-0 record and a 1.74 ERA. He'll face off with righty Joe O'Donnell, who is also 2-0 but entering with a 3.45 ERA.
Jacob Stevens will pitch on Sunday against an opponent to be announced.
This is a matchup that may favor the Eagles. O'Donnell has allowed an average of just under a hit per inning, allowing six earned runs in 15.2 innings thrown. He's struck out 16 compared to four walks. Last year, he went 7-3 in 25 appearances but didn't start any of the games he pitched in. He threw 52 innings, good enough for fourth highest on the team, allowing 37 hits and 20 runs. He had nearly a 2.5:1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio which means Friday's game shouldb e a treat.
As for Brown, he's coming off a 7-3 season last year in which he made 15 starts and really broke out in front of the NC State rotation. He led the team in innings with 79.2, was second on the team in strikeouts with 78, and had a team-low 2.03 ERA in terms of the rotation. BC will counter with Adams, who was roughed up in his last outing but was dominant in his first two starts to still come in with a 4.50 ERA.
In the final game, it's unknown who Stevens will pitch against, but it might not matter. Stevens is still part of a group of 26 pitchers who haven't allowed an earned run to start the season, and he's the only one in the ACC with the mark. He's 17th in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings, and he retired 18 of 21 batters he faced last time out - in a game that wound up being a loss to North Dakota State. It's possible he'll face a guy like Ryan Williamson, who is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in three starts, but it's unknown who the Pack will counter with.
In terms of bullpen help, it's open season. Chris Williams is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in four appearances, and Will Gilbert is 2-0 with two saves, having made seven appearances. Kyle Smith is another option, as is Cody Beckman.
The Eagles used John Nicklas for a number of innings earlier in the week, but he's been their best option out of the bullpen so far, going 3-0 through the first two weeks. Justin Dunn is of course the closer.
Despite moving out of New England, the weather could have an impact on this series...again. Last year, the series was moved to the NEBC in Northborough because Boston's winter destroyed any chance of playing on Shea Field. This year, the forecast is calling for possible rain all weekend, especially on Sunday. Temperatures should reach into the mid-70s, with a 40% chance of rain on Friday, 20% chance of rain on Saturday, and 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms on Sunday. Temperatures will drop as the first two games go on, especially since lows will dip into the 50s at night in Raleigh.
NC State plays its home games at Doak Field at Dail Park, a 3,000-seat (2,500 with seatbacks) stadium situated on campus in Raleigh. It's been the home of NC State baseball since 1966, and it served as the host stadium for the 1974 and 1980 ACC Baseball Tournament.
In 2004, NC State renovated the stadium to the tune of $6 million. It brought a new grass playing field, a new press box, new bathrooms, new grandstands (complete with those seatbacks), and new concession stands.
As for dimensions, the field goes 320 down the left field line and 330 down the right field line. It's only 400 feet to dead center.
Music To Listen To As You Open ACC Play
The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up.
Look I've been thumping the war drum for Boston College baseball since before this season started. After I broke down the stats and saw what Mike Gambino was building, I bought in hook, line, and sinker. I think Boston College is a good baseball team.
But here's the deal - in order to get into the ACC Tournament and have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, they have to win games in the ACC. It's pretty obvious, but that's how it goes.
At the same time, I don't want to put too much pressure on this weekend. BC is going to have a litmus test by facing NC STate. If they do well, we'll know what to expect out of the Eagles for next week. But if they don't do well, then we'll still know what to expect. This is a long season, but it has to start somewhere. And I think it's going to start this week. I don't want to overstate the importance of this weekend, but I don't want to understate it either.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
BC's 10-2 start is the best start since the 1977 season, a string of 39 years. Their 8-0 start was the best ever (given that the record book only went back to 1974), and their eight game winning streak to open the year? It was the longest since 2005.
The Birdballers' start resulted in their first votes in a national baseball poll since 2012. They received votes both in the USA Today Coaches' Poll and the NCBWA Poll. The USA Today poll ranks the Top 25, while the NCBWA poll ranks the Top 30.
Mike King has a 2.79 ERA on his career, currently #1 in Boston College history. He's at 1.74 for the season.
Elliott Avent's been the head coach at NC State since 1997. His 906 wins rank 19th among active coaches, and since taking over with the Wolfpack, the team's continued absolute excellence. He's taken them to the NCAA Tournament 14 times since 1997, including four that ended in the Super Regional round and a fifth, in 2013, that went to the College World Series. In '13, after beating top-seeded North Carolina, they lost in the Second Round to UCLA, then were eliminated by the Tar Heels in an elimination game.
BC is seeking their 10th win against NC State this weekend. The Eagles are 9-21 against them since joining the ACC.
BC's nine wins included a home sweep in Raleigh in 2010, a two-win series that included the 2009 season where BC went to the national tournament and last season, and a one-win series back in 2012.
I'm really intrigued by this series because I can't wait to see how the Eagles turn out. On paper, these are teams that actually look very similar, which, number one, is a great indication for BC and, number two, presents a great opportunity. If BC does well this weekend, there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn't have a number next to their team next weekend.
Excepting that Brown is pitching on Saturday, I think Mike King and Jacob Stevens have turned into an incredible 1-2 punch. Given that Stevens has emerged as an incredible arm for the Eagles, NC State needs to find someone who can pitch well enough to give them a chance to win, and even though that's been the case this year, that last slot is still a little bit dicey - too dicey given who they're going to pitch against.
I would love to see BC take two of three in this series, and I think they have the capacity to do it.