NC State And North Carolina To Square Off In Chapel Hill This Weekend
April 20, 2006
RALEIGH, N.C. - The baseball rivalry between NC State and North Carolina is one of the best in college baseball. That rivalry renews itself this weekend in Chapel Hill amid numerous storylines.
This year's NC State-North Carolina series will mark the first meeting between the two schools when both teams were ranked in the national top 10. The Tar Heels are No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball, with the Wolfpack checking in at No. 7.
NC State and North Carolina are two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the co-leader of the Atlantic Division against the leader of the Coastal Division. At 13-5 in the conference, NC State is tied with Florida State atop the ACC's Atlantic Division, sharing honors for the best record in the league. Wake Forest is one game behind the Wolfpack and Seminoles, with Clemson a game and a half out. North Carolina is all alone in first place in the Coastal Division, one game ahead of Virginia and Miami, and two games ahead of Georgia Tech.
In addition to a battle of division leaders and top 10 teams, the series between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels features a loaded NC State offense (ranked in the top 10 nationally in four categories) against a North Carolina pitching staff that features two of America's highest profile pitchers and a strong weekend rotation and bullpen, and ranks among the national leaders in ERA and strikeouts per game. Both teams rank in the national top 15 in winning percentage -- North Carolina fourth at .816 and NC State 14th at .750. (Note: national statistics are through games of Sunday, April 16 and do not reflect games played this week.)
THE STARTING PITCHERS: Sophomore righthander Andrew Brackman (1-2, 6.33) is scheduled to take the ball for the Wolfpack in the first game of the series against the Tar Heels. This will be Brackman's seventh start overall and his fifth since the end of basketball season. He has allowed 20 runs, 15 of them earned, on 28 hits in 21 1/3 innings. He has walked 16 and struck out 25. In his last start, April 14 at Maryland, he worked 4 1/3 innings and was charged with one run on two hits. He walked five and struck out four. Junior lefthander Andrew Miller (8-0, 1.33) will start Friday for North Carolina.
Freshman lefthander Eric Surkamp (2-2, 4.87) will start on Saturday for the Wolfpack. Surkamp has made 11 appearances, seven of them starts. He has allowed 25 runs, 22 of them earned, on 38 hits in 40 2/3 innings. He has walked 20 and struck out 37. In his last start, April 15 at Maryland, he allowed four runs, three earned runs, on three hits in four innings. He walked four and struck out five. Junior righthander Robert Woodard (4-1, 3.57) will start on Saturday for the Tar Heels.
Redshirt-sophomore righthander Eryk McConnell (6-3, 3.41) will start the series finale for NC State. McConnell has made 11 appearances, all starts, worked 60 2/3 innings and allowed 27 runs, 23 earned, on 56 hits. He has walked 12 and struck out 50. On April 16 at Maryland, McConnell cruised through four innings (no runs on 3 hits), then hit the wall in the fifth. He wound up allowing four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings of work. He walked one and struck out six. Junior righthander Daniel Bard (4-2, 4.47) will start on Sunday for North Carolina.
NC STATE VS. NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels lead the series with the Wolfpack by a 141-116-1 margin, but NC State has won seven of the last 10 meeetings between the two. The Wolfpack took two of three games from the Tar Heels in 2004 and 2005, and won three of four meetings in 2003, including a 7-6 win in 11 innings in the 2003 ACC Tournament. NC State has won 17 of 30 meetings with UNC since Elliott Avent became head coach in 1997, including a 4-8 record at Boshamer Stadium, a 10-5 mark at Doak Field at Dail Park, a 1-0 record in a non-ACC game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in 1988, and a 2-0 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
NC STATE IN THE RANKINGS: With five wins in its last six ACC games, NC State has moved up in all five national polls. NC State moved up from 11th to seventh in the Collegiate Baseball poll, from 16th to 14th in Baseball America, and from 18th to 15th in the Rosenblatt Report. The Wolfpack moved from No. 14 to No. 12 in the USA Today coaches poll, and from No. 14 to No. 13 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll.
THE ACC IN THE RANKINGS: For much of the season, the Atlantic Coast Conference had four teams in the national top 10, but conference teams have beaten up on one another as the season has gone along, and some separation has occurred. Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson currently are ranked in the top 10 in all five polls, and Georgia Tech is in the top 10 in three of the five. NC State is No. 7 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. NC State, Virginia and Miami all are ranked in some or all of the five national polls.
NC STATE VS. NO. 1: This weekend's series at North Carolina will mark NC State's second series this season vs. a team sitting on top of at least one of the national polls. The Wolfpack took two of three games from Georgia Tech the weekend of March 17-19. NC State now has won four of its last six games against teams ranked No. 1. On May 15, 2004, the Pack swept a doubleheader at then-top-ranked Texas, winning 1-0 and 2-0, then lost 19-5 to Miami on June 5, 2004, in the NCAA Coral Gables Regional. NC State did not play a game against a team ranked No. 1 in 2005.
RED-HOT OFFENSE: Will Kimmey of Baseball America said in a recent on-line chat that NC State may have the best offense in the country. That's one man's opinion, but the Wolfpack has done its part to make Kimmey look smart. In the latest NCAA statistics, released April 18, NC State ranked second in the nation in team batting average at .351, fifth in scoring at 9.5 runs per game, fifth in doubles per game at 2.60, and ninth in slugging percentage at .513.
According to statistics released on April 17, the Wolfpack led the ACC with a .351 team batting average, a .441 on-base percentage, 381 runs scored, 514 hits, 103 doubles, 342 RBIs, and 210 walks received.
In ACC games, NC State leads the conference in batting average (.343), on-base percentage (.423), runs scored (156), doubles (44) and RBIs (140). Individually, Ramon Corona leads the ACC in batting in conference games at .463, with Matt Camp second at .423, and Aaron Bates third at .405. They are the only players in the ACC batting .400 or better in league games. Jon Still is fifth in batting average in the ACC in conference games at .373.
1-3-33 AT THE TOP: If anyone thinks the top three spots in a lineup are not critical to an offense's production, please consider the top third of the NC State batting order.
When Matt Camp leads off, Ramon Corona hits second and Aaron Bates hits third, NC State is 19-2 with a .384 team average. With those three at the top of the order, the Wolfpack scores an average of 11.38 runs per game with a .469 on-base percentage and a .570 slugging percentage.
Move any of those three elsewhere in the batting order and the Wolfpack is 12-8 with a .308 team batting average. The Pack scores 7.3 runs per game and has a .405 on-base percentage and a .438 slugging percentage when the top three is not Camp, Corona and Bates.
Individually, Camp and Corona are largely unaffected by switching the top of the lineup, but when 1-3-33 (Camp, Corona and Bates's respective uniform numbers) are not the top three in the batting order, Bates is batting .270 with four doubles, four home runs and 13 RBIs in 20 games. With 1-3-33 at the top of the lineup card, Bates is hitting .465 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 22 RBIs in 21 games.
LEADING OFF: The 2005 season was not one that Matt Camp will remember with fondness. He'll remember the Wolfpack's team success, but his own season was not what people have come to expect from Camp, who batted .333 as a freshman and .332 as a sophomore, but struggled throughout the '05 campaign and finished with an un-Camp-like .267 average.
That was then and this is now, and now, Camp is having far and away his best season in a Wolfpack uniform, batting .382 with 14 doubles, two home runs, 45 runs scored and 31 RBIs through 41 games. It didn't start out this way. Through the first 12 games of the season, Camp was hitting the same .267 he hit as a junior. At some point around there, everything fell into place for him, however, and in 29 games since then, he is batting .424 (53-for-125) with 12 doubles, two home runs, 35 runs scored and 25 RBIs.
In 18 ACC games, Camp is hitting .423 with 10 doubles, a home run, 25 runs scored and 17 RBIs. Camp currently has a 12-game hitting streak, and has batted .466 (27-for-58) during the streak.
BATTING SECOND: A year ago, second baseman Ramon Corona became NC State's first position player in 11 years to make All-ACC as a freshman when he batted .325 with 12 doubles, four home runs and 32 RBIs.
Forget about a sophomore slump. Corona is currently as hot as any hitter could possibly be. For the season, he leads NC State with a .394 average and 16 doubles, and has four home runs and 45 RBIs in 41 games. He has scored 48 runs. His on-base percentage is .436 and his slugging percentage is .583.
Corona's stats for the season pale compared to what he has done recently. He is currently riding a 16-game hitting streak and is hitting .486 (35-for-72) with seven doubles, one triple, two home runs and 21 RBIs during the streak. He leads the ACC in batting in conference games with a .463 average in 18 games. He has 24 RBIs and 22 runs scored in conference games, with a .489 on-base percentage and a .646 slugging percentage.
BATTING THIRD: It is not entirely accurate to say that NC State first baseman Aaron Bates was struggling earlier this season. He was only struggling when compared to the ridiculously high standard he set a year ago, when he batted .425 and hit .500 over the last 24 games of the season.
Following an 0-for-4 afternoon March 10 vs. Boston College, however, Bates was hitting .307 with six doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in 20 games. Respectable numbers, sure, but hardly vintage Bates.
A postgame session that evening with the coaching staff in the batting cages at Doak Field at Dail Park worked some of the kinks out of Bates's swing, and you know the rest of the story. In 21 games since then, Bates is batting .435 (37-for-85) with eight doubles, four home runs, 23 RBIs and 26 runs scored. He was so hot on March 18 vs. Georgia Tech (4-for-6, two doubles, a home run and four RBIs) that the Yellow Jackets went out of their way to pitch around Bates in the series finale on March 19, walking him intentionally three times in six plate appearances. Bates has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games and 18 of his last 21.
RED-HOT IN ACC GAMES: So far this season, only a handful of teams -- Nebraska, UCLA, Clemson and East Carolina -- have really shut down NC State's offense.
Nebraska's Joba Chamberlain dominated the Wolfpack through 7 1/3 innings on February 17. The Bruins held the Wolfpack to eight runs and a .269 batting average the weekend of March 3-5. Three weeks later, Clemson stifled NC State hitters, limiting the Pack to nine runs and a .214 average the weekend of March 24-26. NC State played ECU three midweek games over a four-week span, and the Pirates held the Wolfpack to 10 runs and a .248 average in those games.
Overall, however, NC State's offense has worn out the opposition. Since March 11, opponents have held the Wolfpack to five runs or less just seven times in 21 games. NC State is 15-6 in that stretch.
The Wolfpack offense has been especially potent in ACC games since that Clemson series. In conference series against Virginia, Wake Forest and Maryland the last three weekends, NC State batted .371 (125-for-337), scored 9.1 runs per game, and bashed 28 doubles and 13 home runs. The team on-base percentage in those series was .445 and the slugging percentage was .579.
In the last four conference games in particular, NC State batted .405 (68-for-168), scored 12.5 runs per game, hit 15 doubles and 10 home runs, and had a .469 on-base percentage and a .685 slugging percentage.
COMEBACKS: NC State has demonstrated a knack for coming from behind to win. Over the last two years, the Wolfpack has come from behind to win 34 games, including 13 so far in 2006. Some of those, no doubt, were games the Pack trailed early by a run or two, but that number also includes some seriously impressive comebacks. Seven times in 24 games since March 7, the Wolfpack has overcome significant leads in the fifth inning or later to post comeback victories.
WINNING THE CLOSE ONES: Odds are, if the game is close, NC State will win. Over the last two seasons, NC State is 24-9 in games decided by two runs or less. The Wolfpack's 4-3 comeback win over East Carolina on Tuesday night lifted the Wolfpack's 2006 record in one-run games to 8-3, 16-6 over the last two seasons. NC State has won six of its last seven one-run games. The Pack is 2-1 in two-run games this season and was 6-2 a year ago.