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    RALEIGH, N.C. NC State begins a potentially critical week away from home Wednesday night at UNC Wilmington. At 31-16 overall, but with two huge Atlantic Coast Conference series still left on the schedule at No. 3 Virginia this weekend, and at home vs. No. 16 Clemson next weekend the Wolfpack still has business to take care of if it is to secure its fifth NCAA Tournament bid in as many years. NC State is 12-12 in the ACC.

    The Wolfpack takes on the Seahawks at 7 p.m. at Brooks Field on the UNCW campus. The game will be broadcast live on WKNC-FM (88.1) and on-line at gopack.com through Pack Pass.

    NC State has stuttered a bit down the homestretch of the 2007 season and has lost five of its last six ACC games. The Wolfpack swept a two-game series vs. Campbell this past weekend at Doak Field at Dail Park, but has split its last four games and lost five of its last nine. Since winning six in a row over Wake Forest, UNC Greensboro, Boston College and East Carolina the last week of March and the first week of April, the Pack has played .500 over its last 16 games, a tough stretch that included series with No. 1 Florida State and No. 4 North Carolina.

    The Seahawks are 24-25 heading into play Wednesday, but have won five in a row and six of eight.

    NC STATE VS. UNC WILMINGTON: NC State leads the series 56-13, which includes a pair of wins over the Seahawks earlier this season. NC State has won 16 of the last 19 meetings. The two teams met at Doak Field at Dail Park on February 27, with the Wolfpack prevailing 5-2. Kyle Rutter got the win in relief of Jimmy Gillheeney. Rutter allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings. Caleb Mangum drove in two runs with a sixth-inning single, and Mike Roskopf hit a solo home run. Daniel Hargrave and Mark Carver drove in the two runs for the Seahawks. The Seahawks returned to the Doak on April 25 for a 6-1 victory for the Pack. Mangum went 2-for-4 with a homer and drove in four runs. Clayton Shunick picked up the victory with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

    THE PITCHERS: Freshman righthander Sam Brown (1-0, 4.91) will get the start for the Pack tonight against UNC Wilmington. This will be Brown’s 13th appearances and his fourth start, his first ACC start. He has worked 22 innings, allowed 23 hits, walked three and struck out 21. In his last appearance, a start May 4 vs. Campbell, he allowed two runs on four hits in five innings. He struck out two and did not issue a walk. After a shaky starting the season with an 8.59 ERA through his first six appearances (7.1 IP), Brown is 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA in his last six appearances (14.2 IP). Senior lefthander Andrew Morgan (0-1, 5.55) will start for the Seahawks.

    WHO’S HOT: A quartet of hitters has carried the load recently for the NC State offense. Over the last 10 games, junior right fielder Ryan Pond is hitting .519 with four double, a home run, nine runs scoerd and four RBIs. Freshman second baseman Dallas Poulk is at .389 with three doubles, a triple, nine runs scored and six RBIs. Junior shortstop Ramon Corona is hitting .361 with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs in the last 10 games. Sophomore center fielder Marcus Jones is hitting .313 with two doubles, two homers and nine RBIs the last 10 games.

    THE WOLFPACK OFFENSE OF LATE: NC State has had its ups and downs offensively in recent weeks. This past weekend, the Wolfpack took its hacks against a Campbell team with 10 wins all season, with predictable results. The Pack batted .378 (28-for-74), scored 19 runs and belted five doubles, a triple and four home runs in the two games against the Camels.

    Against more rigorous competition, however, NC State has met considerably less success. In its last nine Atlantic Coast Conference games, the Wolfpack is hitting .248 and has scored 51 runs (5.7 per game). Those numbers include a 19-9 blowout of Miami on April 15 and an 11-1 win over North Carolina on April 27. Take those games out of the equation and NC State, in the other seven games in that nine-game stretch, is hitting .174 and has scored 21 runs (3.0 per game). NC State batted .200 with runners on base in those seven games, .176 with runners in scoring position. In the last nine conference games, Wolfpack hitters have struck out 100 times.

    In the Georgia Tech series April 20-22, NC State batted .167 and scored seven runs (2.3 per game). The Pack batted .167 (5-for-30) with runners on base, but only .118 (2-for-17) with runners in scoring position. NC State batters struck out 33 times in the three games, including 17 times in the second game of the series. That’s the most strikeouts in a game by NC State in at least 10 years, and the most in a three-game span since the 2004 team fanned 39 times from April 3-April 7 (15 vs. Florida State on April 3; 10 vs. Florida State on April 4; and 14 vs. Old Dominion on April 7).

    The numbers were better April 27-29 against North Carolina, thanks in large part to the aforementioned 11-1 victory over longtime nemesis Robert Woodard in the first game of the series. The Wolfpack batted .283 for the series, scored 19 runs, struck out 31 times and batted .250 with runners in scoring position. Without the 11-1 win in the series opener, the numbers for the remaining two games in the series fall to .206 batting, eight runs, 23 strikeouts, .194 with runners on base and .158 with runners in scoring position.

    THE ACC STANDINGS: The race for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division is all over but the shouting, as the cliche goes. Florida State, with a 20-4 league record, has a five-game lead over second-place Clemson (15-9) with six conference games to play. The Tigers are in Tallahassee this weekend and will have to sweep the Seminoles to remain alive. NC State is in third place at 12-12 and headed to Charlottesville for a three-game series against third-ranked Virginia. Wake Forest (11-13) is in fourth and hosts Miami this weekend. Boston College (12-15) is fifth and plays out of conference this weekend against UMES. Maryland (7-20) brings up the rear. The Terps are off this weekend.

    Virginia leads the Coastal Division with a 16-7 record, a half-game ahead of North Carolina (16-8), two games ahead of third-place Georgia Tech (14-9). Miami is fourth at 12-12, with Duke (8-18) and Virginia Tech (5-19) in fifth and sixth, respectively.

    THE CAMPBELL SERIES: Coming out of exams, NC State played a two-game series at home against a struggling Campbell team and came away with two relatively routine victories. The Wolfpack won the opener 12-4 behind a 16-hit attack that included home runs by Ryan Pond, Mike Roskopf and Matt Payne, plus a strong five innings from freshman starter Sam Brown, who allowed two runs on four hits to earn his first college victory. Roskopf went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs, and Dallas Poulk, newly installed in the leadoff spot in the lineup, went 3-for-5, scored one run and drove in two. Six pitchers combined on a three-hitter in the second game of the series, and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a 7-3 victory. Nate Karns got the win with four innings in the prearranged split, and Jeff Stallings, Jimmy Gillheeney, Kyle Rutter, Andrew Taylor and Eryk McConnell worked an inning apiece. Marcus Jones went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run and two RBIs. Ramon Corona continued his hot hitting with three hits, including a double, in four at-bats. Poulk went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

    GRAND SLAMS: When Marcus Jones hit a grand-slam home run April 27 vs. North Carolina, it was the fourth grand slam by the Wolfpack this season. Ramon Corona hit one April 10 vs. William & Mary, Caleb Mangum hit a grand slam March 11 vs. Maryland, and Mike Roskopf hit a grand slam March 30 at Boston College. The school record for grand slams in a season is six, set in 1997, head coach Elliott Avent’s first year on the job. The Wolfpack hit no grand slams a year ago, hit two in 2005, four in 2004 and one in 2003.

    POULK HITS HIS WAY TO LEADOFF SPOT: When senior infielder Vince Gutierrez separated his right shoulder March 14 vs. Valparaiso and was lost to the team for an extended period, freshman Dallas Poulk was ready to step in and fill the void left by Gutierrez’s absence. With three hits in nine at-bats in part-time action leading up to the Valpo series, Poulk was beginning to earn more playing time anyway, but in 27 games since Gutierrez went down, Poulk has started all 27 games at second base and batted .361 (35-for-97), scored 18 runs and driven in 16. Defensively, he has committed just three errors in 130 chances (.977 fielding percentage) in 27 games since replacing Gutierrez in the starting lineup.

    Poulk has done so well since moving into the lineup that he has moved to the top of the lineup card as the Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter. Poulk took over the leadoff spot for the May 4-5 Campbell series and went 5-for-9 in the two games, scored two runs and drove in three.

    CORONA PICKING UP THE PACE: Despite the overall recent struggles of the Wolfpack offense, junior shortstop Ramon Corona is hitting his stride at the plate. After starting the year .156 through 17 games, Corona has batted .327 (37-for-113) since then, and .381 (16-for-42) in the last 11 games. Corona has batted .326 (14-for-43) in the last four ACC series.


     

     

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