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Boston College Baseball: Around The Horn, NC State Edition

After taking two of three last weekend, the stakes get tougher when Birdball heads to Clemson.

Courtesy Boston College Athletics

For the first time since 2009, Boston College opened up their conference season by winning a series. In taking two of three from the NC State Wolfpack, the Eagles recorded two shutouts. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend that was:

Touching First

Let's start at first with the first baseman - Joe Cronin. In a weekend where the Eagles played top, upper-echelon college baseball, its senior captain is reaping the rewards of the production. Heading into this weekend, Cronin leads the team in every offensive category: average, hits, doubles, troubles, homers, RBI, total bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and walks. He's also been named Player of the Week for the nation (NCBWA), conference (ACC), and region (New England).

Cronin entered the year without much herald. Prior to last season, he garnered attention as a table setter for Chris Shaw, the type of player someone likes "a little bit." But with Shaw in the middle of the lineup, "table setting" was all the complementary pieces had for task. They had to work around Shaw, so the lineup would go in shutdown mode once they had the table set for him. That's changed this year.

The aggressiveness at the plate extends nine deep, and perhaps nobody is benefitting more than Cronin. Players at the bottom of the order are just as likely to get on base as some of the players at the top of the order. That means setting the table becomes everyone pitching in, and Cronin's been a big part of that.

Rounding Second

Much of the attention from the weekend (and rightfully so) lands on the starting rotation, which at BC is becoming as legitimate as every other staff in the ACC. But the bullpen is nothing to thumb the nose at.

The only time the bullpen ran into trouble over the weekend was in the bottom of the ninth when Donovan Casey was brought into pitch. But that wasn't necessarily Casey's fault. He was 0-2 at the plate with a walk and a hit by pitch. In the field, he was busy, recording six outs. So bringing in him in meant a guy who had been through a rough physical day was brought into pitch. At that point, it became asking simply too much from him.

But the rest of the bullpen lifted him up after he struggled in the ninth. With the emergence of Bobby Skogsbergh, BC has legitimate, threatening options off the bench. John Nicklas has been superb, allowed to be a little bit more now that the pressure of being the only setup or closer is loosened. Dan Metzdorf is a legitimate lefthanded thrower who has some intense break on his pitches, and Skogsbergh allows liberal use of righty-lefty-righty, something BC hasn't had the chance to do.

As the season goes on, the Eagles will run into rough spots like the one they faced on Sunday. But with the emergency of their back-end staff, including the fact that some of their better pitchers - like John Witkowski - haven't been used that much, there's cause for excitement here.

Waving In From Third

And then there's the starters. When the year began, the thought process was that Boston College would enter the year with a legitimate number one starter, a good number two starter, and a guy at the end of the weekend who could give the a chance to win. They've found that - and more.

Mike King remains a legitimate #1 starter and is already on draft boards with a chance to really rocket up them by June. As the Friday starter, he's capable of going out and winning a game on his own, something he was able to do last season with the Eagles once he established himself into the weekend rotation. He's the type of guy who can go head-to-head with the Brendan McKay's of the world (4-0, 0.33 ERA at Louisville), giving your team a chance to win against the best of the best.

Through the first month, Jesse Adams is already a solid #2 option. He was snakebitten in one start earlier this season, but it's hard to pin the loss on Saturday on him. Through his first four starts, he's had two quality starts, one bad start (two innings against Villanova) and one start in which he faced his opponent's best pitcher (NC State). That's enough to skew his stats to a 3-1 record with a 4.91 ERA, but remember - some of this is out of his control. As the lefty, he also breaks up the rotation, and there's reason to believe that he's just fine. After all, if the name of the game with a pitcher is to put his team in position to win, he's done that, even in his loss.

And then there's Jacob Stevens. Stevens has been ridiculous to start the season, one of now 11 pitchers left yet to allow an earned run on the season. Of those 11 pitchers, he's thrown the most innings, making him, at present, arguably the best pitcher in the nation.

The run he's on to start the year is ridiculous, but we have to remember that it won't sustain itself over the course of the year. He will run into trouble at some point during the year. How he responds to that will be a lot of his growth and maturity in his career. For the meantime, though, we can all sit back and enjoy what is one of the greatest rides a pitcher can experience to start their career.

Heading Home

The upcoming weekend will go a long way to determining if Boston College is for real or not. Before the season, there stood a really good chance at Clemson having a down year. Firing Jack Leggette was curious at best, and although Monte Lee is a good baseball coach, he isn't what you would've expected for the Tigers. He played at College of Charletson, was an assistant at South Carolina (of all places), then coached College of Charleston for six years, of which he went to the NCAA Tournament only twice.

But Lee can be a good hire. At 39, he's incredibly young, which means he'll have a different approach to the game. Clemson is a top recruiting baseball school, which means he should be able to get the players he wants and needs for his system. At the same time, he has a well-stocked cabinet of talent left over, meaning he can hypothetically still coach a team to a boatload of wins while building up the base of the game that he wants.

At the same time, though, Clemson is a program in flux. Twice in four years from 2006-2010, they won the Atlantic Division and advanced to Omaha for the College World Series. In '10, they went as far as the semifinal round. But in the years since, they haven't been "Clemson baseball." They stopped consistently winning 40 games, dipping down to consistently winning 35 games. Instead of finishing first or second in the division, they now finish second or third. And where they used to shoot for Omaha, they're consistently now just a regional team - which anyone in the ACC who can win 15 conference games and 35 overall games can be.

So if Boston College can catch a team like Clemson, it shows the ceiling for which the Eagles can attain. The goal has been to get back to the ACC Tournament and be in a position to advance to Omaha. The Eagles hypothetically have proven they can hang with and beat teams who were in that slot (NC State). But a team like Clemson represents the next rung, a team that's a consistent national contender (and where that fact isn't good enough). If the Eagles can rattle the Tiger cage this weekend, it'll continue to send shockwaves through the ACC, and it'll place BC on a pedestal to join the ranks of which they've been pushed around by in recent years.