NC State Baseball To Open ACC Play This Weekend
March 18, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. - The preliminaries now are over. The big kids hit the playground this weekend for the NC State baseball team, which begins Atlantic Coast Conference play with a three-game series vs. Duke at Doak Field.
Game times are set for 7 p.m. on Friday, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
NC State begins play this weekend with a 14-4 record and ranked 17th by USA Today Sports Weekly and 18th by Collegiate Baseball. The Blue Devils, 10-10, are unranked.
NC State and Duke have a lengthy rivalry in baseball, with the Wolfpack holding a 135-116-1 advantage. NC State - which swept the Blue Devils at Jack Coombs Field last season by scores of 9-6, 16-3 and 11-4 - has won six of the last seven meetings in the series, and 14 of 23 since Elliott Avent became the head coach in 1997.
Justin Riley and David Hicks were the offensive stars in last season's sweep. Riley belted two doubles and four home runs and drove in six runs in the series, while Hicks went 10-for-15 at the plate with five doubles and five RBIs. Joey Devine picked up a pair of saves on the mound.
Last season's three-game sweep of the Blue Devils was the first regular-season sweep in the series since NC State swept Duke in 1991. Last year's sweep was the first time that NC State had beaten Duke in a series in Durham since 1995.
This year's Blue Devils come into the weekend against the Wolfpack hitting .280 as a team, led by Javier Socorro at .431 and Mike Miello at .413. Tim Layden leads Duke with three home runs and 29 RBIs. Duke averages 6.8 runs per game.
NC State is hitting .285 as a team, led by David Hicks, who is hitting .418 with six home runs and 17 RBIs, all team highs. Matt Camp is hitting .403 for the Wolfpack and leads the team with 19 runs scored. NC State is averaging 6.4 runs per game.
THE STARTING PITCHERS: Redshirt-sophomore righthander Michael Rogers (3-0, 2.36) will start for the Wolfpack on Friday. Rogers has made five starts and worked 34 1/3 innings thus far in 2004. He has allowed 13 runs, nine of them earned, on 26 hits. He has walked four and struck out 35. He has been named ACC Pitcher of the Week twice in the last three weeks. Twice this season, Rogers has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and three times he has taken a shutout into the sixth. In his last start, March 12 vs. Northeastern, Rogers had his worst outing of the season, allowing six runs on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out six. NC State won the game 7-6 with a run in the bottom of the ninth, but Rogers did not figure in the decision.
Senior righthander Vern Sterry (3-0, 2.42) will pitch the middle game of the series on Saturday. Sterry officially has made four starts, although he started and went six innings on February 14 vs. Campbell in a game that was suspended in the middle of the seventh inning with NC State leading 5-1. That game will be resumed at that point when Campbell returns to Doak Field on April 14. Sterry has officially worked 26 innings and allowed 10 runs, seven earned, on 29 hits. He has walked one and struck out 29. In his last start, March 13 vs. Northeastern, Sterry was tremendous, allowing two runs, one of them unearned, on six hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out a season-high 11 in a 5-4 win for the Pack. Sterry heads into play this weekend having faced 89 conseucitve batters without allowing a walk. The victory over the Huskies was Sterry's 14th in a row, which established a new school record. The old record was set from 1984-86 by Robert Toth. The suspended game against Campbell could add one more win to Sterry's streak, assuming the Wolfpack holds on for the victory. Baseball rules dictate that suspended games count as being played on the day they started, not the day they are concluded, so if the Pack does not cough up the lead to the Camels, Sterry's win over Northeastern will be his 15th in a row.
Senior righthander Derek McKee (1-0, 2.45) will start the final game of the series for the Wolfpack. He missed all of the 2003 season recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. This will be McKee's third appearance and his second start. He has pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits. He has walked none and struck out 12. In his last appearance, a start on March 10 vs. George Mason, McKee allowed two runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings. He walked none and struck out eight.
Tim Layden (2-0, 4.57), Zach Schreiber (2-2, 5.22) and Greg Burke (2-2, 2.51) are expected to start this weekend for Duke.
CAMP STREAK AT 14 GAMES: Heading into action this weekend vs. Duke, sophomore infielder Matt Camp is riding a 14-game hitting streak. During the streak, Camp is hitting .393 (22-for-56) with four doubles, one home run, 17 runs scored and seven RBIs. Camp has hit safely in every game this season but one.
HICKS HIT STREAK AT 10 GAMES: Senior first baseman David Hicks enters play this weekend on a 10-game hitting streak. During the streak, Hicks is batting .450 (18-for-40) with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs. He has hit safely in 16 of 17 games this season.
TIGHT PITCHING: NC State came into the 2004 season expecting to have a strong pitching staff, and the first five weeks of the season seem to bear that out:
* The staff ERA is 2.81
* Opponents are hitting just .226 against NC State pitching
* Through 160 innings, Wolfpack pitchers have allowed just 61 runs, 11 of them unearned, on 131 hits
* The bullpen pitched 31 2/3 innings this season before allowing an earned run, and still has a 1.57 ERA through 57 1/3 innings
* Wolfpack pitchers have walked 38 and struck out 161, a ratio of 4.24-to-1
* NC State pitchers went 15 innings and faced 50 batters before issuing their first walk of the season, and are averaging just 2.14 walks per nine innings
* Starter Vern Sterry has allowed just one walk and struck out 29 in 26 innings this season, and has now faced 89 consecutive batters without allowing a walk.
RELIEF WORK STELLAR: Hitting coaches often talk about working the count and wearing down starting pitchers so that opponents are forced to go to their bullpens.
That might not be the right strategy against NC State. The Wolfpack's bullpen has been a team strength all season, allowing just 12 runs, 10 earned, on 29 hits in 57 1/3 innings. NC State relievers have walked 18 and struck out 62. Six of the 12 Wolfpack pitchers who have made appearances in relief have not allowed a run.
DO NOT WALK: NC State pitching coach Chris Roberts doesn't get too worked up about gaudy strikeout numbers, but he makes no attempt to hide his disdain for walks.
Consequently, Roberts has to be pleased by the performance of his pitching staff this season. Through the first 18 games of the season, Wolfpack pitchers have walked just 38 and struck out 161 in 160 innings, an average of 2.14 walks and 9.06 strikeouts per nine innings, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.24-to-1.
In the Homewood Suites Tournament in Charleston, S.C., February 27-29, NC State pitchers worked 27 innings and walked just two while striking out 25. That began a stretch of 12 games that saw Wolfpack pitchers work 108 innings while walking 17 and striking out 126. That's an average of 1.42 walks and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
That stretch came to a crashing halt in the Wolfpack's last two games prior to the Duke series. In those two games, the Wolfpack walked 11 batters, seven of them by freshmen in a span of six innings.