Since the Boston College baseball season began a month ago, the Eagles have been steamrolling through the first part of their schedule. They won 12 of their first 15 games, defeated a highly-touted NC State team, and placed themselves not only in the national picture but, in some cases, inside the rankings. From an underdog to an also-ran to a bubble contender, the Eagles received accolade after accolade.
In a couple of losses this year, they had to overcome adversity, but none of it will compare to what they'll need to overcome from their losses this past weekend. Despite well enough to compete with Clemson, the Eagles returned home without a victory. Heading down to Pittsburgh for the weekend, they'll find themselves with winnable games. If BC comes back from Pittsburgh with a series in hand, they'll be back on the road. If not, they'll need to find a way to fix things up with series against Florida State and Virginia on the horizon.
Prior to the weekend, we knew BC's bats were running into a buzz saw of a pitching staff. Clemson came into the weekend highly touted, and we knew that the Eagles had an uphill battle in order to get runs. Over the course of three games, we saw exactly what that meant.
Clemson struck out 34 Eagles over the weekend, including 14 on Friday and 15 on Sunday. A team known for working counts and playing on their patience, BC walked only three times all weekend. Every starter turned in a quality start, with the shortest performance coming from Alex Eubanks' 6.2 innings thrown. With a bullpen ranking among the nation's elite, there was virtually nothing BC could do against the Tigers.
That said, BC did get 10 hits in the series' third game, and the middle of the order seemed to start figuring out the Clemson staff by the end of the weekend. Should these teams meet again later in the year, it would be interesting to see if this learning experience could come back to help the Eagles on neutral ground with a one-game series.
Despite giving up six runs in each of the first two games, BC's pitching staff did virtually everything it could while the offense struggled against the Clemson arms. Mike King was charged with six runs on eight hits, but BC stayed within four runs of Clemson thanks to three innings of lights out pitching by Thomas Lane and Zach Stromberg.
Jesse Adams gave up four runs in the second inning and was pulled after three innings on Saturday, and the bullpen only gave up two more runs the rest of the way, one of which was in the eighth when the game was 5-1 and BC's bats had been soundly shut down.
Jacob Stevens turned in 6.1 innings for the Eagles on Sunday, and Justin Dunn threw 2.2 innings of relief. Stevens and John Nicklas made only two mistake pitches, which resulted in two homers in a 3-2 victory. Had the offense been able to drive in one or two more runs and not left nine on base, they're winning that game.
The point is that this season is incredibly young, and while the losses exposed a couple of flaws among the BC team, the pitching staff was wildly impressive at some times, dominant at other times.
Waving In From Third
So now the question becomes about how to respond. This weekend will represent an incredibly intriguing matchup with Pittsburgh, a team that's capable of knocking off nationally-ranked conference opponents. At 2-4 in conference play, the Panthers picked up a win in the third game of both their series against North Carolina and Florida State after getting throttled in the first couple of games. It's games like those that inevitably play a role later in the year when playoff positioning is measured in half-games.
Pittsburgh is a mirror-type program for Boston College, a program positioned as a northern school in the ACC in baseball. If they can steady the ship, they're a team that could potentially go head-to-head with BC for recruits, especially with a brand-new complex on campus that's only a few years old. So this becomes an important head-to-head matchup.
At the same time, though, the Tigers are only 9-8 after having struggled through non-conference play. They lost to Ohio State in 13 innings and were swept in a three game series in New Orleans. They did pick up three wins in Louisiana against Grambling State, but at the same time, this is a beatable team.
We'll look more into this over the course of the week.
If by "heading home" we really mean not at all. Last season at this time, Mother Nature dumped 110-plus inches of snow on Boston, of which more than half fell during February. This year, the city's received less than a quarter of that.
But yet the first two games in Boston were postponed due to inclement weather. Last Tuesday, what would've been the home opener against Holy Cross got pushed to the first Tuesday in April, a day before the Eagles have to travel to Amherst for the first round of the Beanpot. On Tuesday of this week, snow on the second official day of spring forced the postponement to a date to be determined of a game on the road at Northeastern.
There is nothing short of building a dome that could've prevented this from happening, but it's still noteworthy. If nothing else it means they'll play a ton of games at home down the stretch, but it's still something that's there. By the time BC plays Connecticut on Tuesday at home (weather permitting...of course), the season-opening road trip will be at 21 games.