PTB administrator Daniel Wilson reviews the season so far and previews the upcoming NC State – Wake Forest series.
It’s been an interesting season for No. 20 NC State (7-6) so far, hasn’t it?
The Wolfpack came in as one of the top 10 teams in the country according to D1Baseball and anywhere between 10 and 15 in other polls. However, with State floating around .500, it’s hard to gauge if the team is worth the hype it had at the beginning of the season.
To see where the Wolfpack stacks up, it would be wise to see what areas and which players have helped State succeed and what has hurt the cause.
One of the biggest question marks heading into 2017 was which newcomers would step up and deliver. Three of the Pack freshmen immediately come to mind when this comes up: infielder Will Wilson, catcher Brad Debo, and pitcher Dalton Feeney (2-0, 0.00 ERA). Wilson, a Kings Mountain, N.C. native, currently leads the team in RBI with 12 and is third in batting with a .327 average. Debo, a Durham, N.C. native in a platoon role behind the plate with Jack Conley, is second in batting with .385 despite only playing in 11 of the Pack’s 13 games, starting in 10.
Feeney, a Bismark, N.D. product, has had the least amount of chances to prove himself out of the trio, especially since he started the season with a minor injury according to head coach Elliott Avent. However, Feeney has shown that he can provide State with a dependable arm, picking up his second win of the season in his first collegiate start with six shutout innings against UMass Lowell. He’s one of only three Pack pitchers with a spotless ERA, and he’ll have his first real challenge this Saturday as he is slated as the starter for the second game of the double header against Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack entered the 2017 with one of the best trio of outfielders, if not the best, in the nation. In left field, sophomore Brett Kinneman continued from where he left off from his freshman All-American 2016 season with a hot start against Hawaii, leaving with a .500 average, but his stats have tapered off as of late. He is currently hitting .250 with two home runs, seven runs, five RBI, and a team-high eight walks.
Meanwhile in center, junior Josh McLain is the Pack’s best contact hitter. The Hiddenite, N.C. native leads the team in batting with a .395 average with three stolen bases, eight RBI, and eight runs. Until the neutral-site matchup with Maryland, McLain had a 10-game hitting streak that stretched back to the final game of the 2016 season in which eventual national champion Coastal Carolina defeated the Pack in the Raleigh Regional. However, McLain left the matchup against the Terrapins in the first inning after an injury on a groundout, ending his hit streak.
Finally, junior Brock Deatherage rounds out the group in right field. Drawing much comparisons to Washington Nationals shortstop and former NC State standout Trea Turner, the Burlington, N.C. native is arguably the fastest player on the Wolfpack roster with McLain as his closest competitor. He leads the team in steals with four and in runs scored with 12. The three of them have helped catalyze the Wolfpack offense, and as the trio goes, so goes State.
The Wolfpack pitching has been a roller coaster this point in the season. Senior Sean Adler (2-1, 3.12 ERA) looked to be an unlikely beacon of hope with strong performances as the Friday starter against Hawaii and Austin Peay. However, Adler was rocked against Rhode Island for his only loss on the season thus far. He leads the team in strikeouts with 17 and will continue as Friday’s starter against the Demon Deacons.
Two pitchers that haven’t had much success in a starting role were senior Cory Wilder (0-1, 4.50 ERA) and junior Tommy DeJuneas (1-0, 2.35 ERA). Wilder showed promise against Austin Peay with four innings of shutout pitching. However, his control issues that have plagued him throughout his entire time at NC State reared their ugly head against Maryland as the Lima, Ohio native left the game without recording a single out. The case for DeJuneas is not as strong as it is for Wilder, but the two situations are similar. Despite a win over Hawaii, DeJuneas showed control issues with five walks in 5-2/3 innings against the Rainbow Warriors and he exited his start against Austin Peay after two runs on two hits and two walks in two innings.
Then there’s the disaster that was redshirt junior Cody Beckman’s (0-1, 15.00 ERA) three innings of horror against Hawaii. After giving up five runs on five hits and three walks, the 760th pick in the 2016 MLB Draft was pulled from the game while picking up the loss. Beckman finished the 2016 season 2-0 with a 6.05 ERA and was drafted by the Mets that summer, so he’s shown flashes of potential and has appeal from professional scouts. The Hawaii mishap may have been an anomaly, but he has yet to make another appearance in 2017, so there may not be as much confidence in his arm moving forward as there might have been at the beginning of the season.
Arguably, the best bullpen arm the Pack has in its arsenal is redshirt sophomore Austin Staley (0-0, 2.08). The North Wilkesboro, N.C. native leads the team in appearances with six and has only allowed three runs in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks. Staley’s dominance was exemplified in State’s last game against UNCW where he pitched the final 1-2/3 innings, threw 11 strikes on 14 pitches, and shut out the Seahawks to pick up the team’s first save of 2017.
Previewing Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons enter this weekend’s series with a 10-4 record, fourth in the Atlantic division. Wake Forest also holds an 8-1 record at home with its only home loss coming at the hands of Southern California.
Out of all qualifying batters, the Atlantic Coast Conference has 13 players with a batting average over .400. Wake Forest has three of them: Ben Breazeale (.439), Jake Mueller (.415), and Jonathan Pryor (.407). The Deacs have also had 22 home runs, led by Stuart Fairchild and Gavin Sheets with five each. Sheets also leads the conference in RBI with 26. The Demon Deacons have a strong offense supplemented by a top-notch pitching staff.
Wake’s starting pitchers have a combined 5-1 record with a 4.89 ERA. The Deacons’ Friday night starter is returning senior Parker Dunshee (2-1, 5.94 ERA), a 14th-round draft pick in the 2016 Draft. He leads the team in strikeouts with 18 while only walking three batters. Seni0r Connor Johnstone (1-0, 3.26 ERA), Wake’s Saturday starter, is tied for seventh in the ACC in innings pitched with 19-1/3 innings and has held opposing batters to .156, first on the team and third in the conference. Finally, junior Donnie Sellers (2-0, 2.76 ERA) rounds out the rotation. After spending most of last season in the bullpen, Sellers has taken on a starting role and has only allowed five earned runs in 16-1/3 innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks.
The series between NC State and Wake Forest starts Friday at Gene Hooks Field at David F. Couch Ballpark. First pitch is set for 6 pm. Due to weather concerns on Sunday, Saturday will feature a double-header with the first game slated for 1 pm.