Baseball Gets Ready For Big ACC Series vs. Virginia Tech
RALEIGH, N.C. - Coming off its first Atlantic Coast Conference series win of the season last weekend at Wake Forest, NC State returns to conference play Friday with a big home ACC series vs. Virginia Tech.
The Wolfpack and Hokies will open the series Friday evening at 6:30, then finish the series with a pair of afternoon contests, Saturday at 2 o’clock and Sunday at 1:30. WKNC-FM will broadcast all three games live, and all three broadcasts will be available on-line at gopack.com through the Pack Pass package.
The series will pit two teams looking to get back into the midst of the ACC race. NC State comes into the weekend at 3-6 and in fourth place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, The Pack is 13-11 overall. Virginia Tech is 2-6 in conference play and in last place in the six-team Coastal Division. The Hokies are 14-8 overall.
Friday’s opener will feature junior lefthander Jimmy Gillheeney (3-1, 3.18) for the Wolfpack against fifth-year senior righthander Rhett Ballard (3-1, 3.82) for the Hokies. Sophomore righthander Jake Buchanan (2-2, 3.06) will start on Saturday for NC State against freshman righthander Mathew Price (2-1, 2.38). Sunday’s pitching plans are TBA for both teams.
Gillheeney and Buchanan have been remarkably consistent for the Wolfpack. Gillheeney has pitched into the sixth inning in all five starts, including three starts with at least seven complete innings pitched, and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in all five starts. His last outing was his shortest of the season and his first loss of the year, March 20 at Wake Forest. Gillheeney allowed four runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings against the Deacs and was charged with the 6-3 defeat. Buchanan pitched the middle game of the Wake Forest series, and was brilliant after a wobbly first inning. Wake Forest got to Buchanan for three runs on three hits in the first, but he retired the final two batters of the inning and went on to retire 21 in a row and 25 of 27 to end the game. The Deacons did not come close to a hit after the first inning.
The Wolfpack took two of three games at Wake Forest last weekend, then defeated UNC Greensboro 4-3 on Tuesday. The three-game winning streak came to a crashing halt Wednesday, however, when Liberty recorded season highs for runs and hits while handing the Pack a 17-5 defeat. Since jumping to a 7-2 record to start the season, the Wolfpack has struggled, both in and out of conference play.
“This series will be a gut check for us,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “We haven’t played like the team we thought we’d be in the preseason, and it’s been very frustrating. We just have to get better, and soon.”
The Hokies have won four of their last six games, but dropped two of three games to third-ranked Georgia Tech last weekend in Blacksburg, despite holding leads in all three games. VPI dropped two of three at Duke to begin ACC play, then lost two in a rain-abbreviated series to North Carolina in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech is hitting .321 as a team, including a solid .288 mark in conference play. Junior outfielder Steve Domecus leads the Hokies with a .424 average, .452 in ACC play. He is second on the team with three homers and has a team-high 26 RBIs.
Sophomore outfielder Austin Wates is hitting .356 with two homers and 15 RBIs, and junior outfielder Steve Bumbry is at .323 with four long balls and 19 RBIs. Junior catcher Anthony Sosnoskie is the team’s leading power source with six doubles, five home runs and 23 RBIs to go with a .295 average.
The Series vs. Virginia Tech: The Wolfpack holds a 29-13-1 lead in the series against the Hokies. NC State is 7-4 against Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC for the 2005 season. NC State won last year’s series from Virginia Tech two games to one in Blacksburg.
NC State took the opener 8-2, scoring one run in every inning except the first. Ryan Pond, Matt Payne, Marcus Jones, Pat Ferguson and Nick Stanley had two hits apiece, and Clayton Shunick picked up his fourth win of the year with five solid innings. Joey Cutler got his first save, allowing one run over the final four innings.
Austin Wates’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning lifted the Hokies past the Wolfpack in the middle game of the series, 4-3. Justin Wright and Josh Wymer combined on a six-hitter.
NC State blew open a close game in the finale with a six-run ninth inning and cruised to an 11-5 victory. Devon Cartwright had an RBI-triple to jump start the ninth-inning rally. Ferguson finished 3-for-5 with a homer, and Pond went 2-for-3. Then-closer Jimmy Gillheeney pitched the eighth and ninth innings to get credit for the win.
The last time the two teams played at Doak Field at Dail Park, the Pack took the three-game series two games to one, winning the first two games 12-8 and 5-2, but dropping the finale 6-4. NC State is 8-4 against Virginia Tech since Elliott Avent became head coach in 1997. The other game against VPI in that time was a 12-6 win in the 1997 NCAA South II Regional.
Hitting Streaks: Drew Poulk enters the Virginia Tech series riding a team-longest eight-game hitting streak and is batting .300 (9-for-30) with two doubles, a home run and seven RBIs during the streak. John Gianis has a six-game hitting streak entering the Virginia Tech series. He is hitting .533 (8-for-15) with three RBIs during the streak.
Drew Martin has a five-game hitting streak, and is hitting .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles during his streak. Pratt Maynard has a four-game hitting streak entering the Virginia Tech series.
Dallas Poulk has a four-game hitting streak entering the Virginia Tech series, and is batting .438 (7-for-16) with a double, two RBIs and five runs scored during the streak. Dallas Poulk has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games dating back to his switch from second base to shortstop March 11.
Chris Schaeffer has hit safely in seven of his last eight games entering the Virginia Tech series, batting .308 (8-for-26) with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs during that time.
Hobbled: Wade Moore suffered an upper-leg injury March 25 in the eighth inning of the Liberty game and will be out of the lineup for the Virginia Tech series. Moore has a four-game hitting streak through the Liberty game, and is hitting .389 (7-for-18) with a double, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs during the streak.
Bullpen Notes: The Wolfpack bullpen is 6-5 with a 4.09 ERA and four saves. Opponents are hitting .242 against NC State relievers. Senior righthander Joey Cutler has a 0.60 ERA in 15 appearances with one walk and 16 strikeouts. Cutler has not allowed an earned run in his last five appearances, covering nine innings. He walked one and fanned seven in that span.
Senior righthander Kyle Rutter (2-1, 3.00) has allowed four runs on four hits in 22 2/3 innings of work in his last 10 appearances. Rutter has walked eight and struck out 22 and is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in that time.
Freshman lefty Grant Sasser (0-0, 1.59) has allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings all season, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Rotation News: NC State’s starting pitchers are 7-6 with a 3.67 ERA. Opponents are hitting .242 against the starters, and the Wolfpack has five starters with ERAs of 3.18 or better.