What to Expect: North Carolina A&T (4/14)
After sweeping Boston College in Chestnut Hill this past weekend, the now 14-11 2021 NC State Wolfpack Baseball team will now head back to Raleigh for a midweek matchup against the North Carolina A&T Aggies.
Head Coach Ben Hall's squad had limped to a 9-23 record so far in 2021, but is sure to provide a fun local opponent for the Wolfpack.
Without further ado, let's meet the Aggies.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for A&T so far this season has not necessarily been what has happened on the field, but just finding an opponent to take the field. With Bethune-Cookman and Maryland Eastern Shore each opting out of this year's baseball season, the Aggies were left with just five conference opponents, only three of which they're going to play in 2021. A&T's lone conference opponents have been North Carolina Central, Coppin State, and Florida A&M.
By the end of the season they will have played three four-game series against Central and Florida A&M, in addition to two four-game series against Coppin State.
Through twelve conference games, the Aggies currently sit 1t 4-8 in the MEAC, with all of their wins coming against North Carolina Central. The team's season was highlighted by winning two-of-three at The Citadel, their lone series win of the year.
Aside from The Citadel and conference opponents, A&T lost two-of-three against College of Charleston and Elon, had won one-of-five against Appalachian State, and was swept in four games at Baylor.
In their midweek slate, the Aggies have yet to pick up a win, losing to Liberty and UNC-Greensboro.
Since he's started each of A&T's midweek games, it's safe to say that true-freshman Xavier Meachem will get the nod on Wednesday. Through five starts and and ten appearances, Meachem currently sits at 0-5 on the year with a 10.26 ERA. Meachem has yet to go longer than 3.1 innings over the course of a single outing this year, so he'll likely be one of many pitchers the Aggies use. The A&T coaching staff may look to go in a different direction and give someone else a start, but with a big series against Florida A&M coming up this weekend, Ben Hall and his staff may just keep Meachem in his typical role.
Evan Gates has been an outstanding bullpen pitcher for the Aggies, posting a 4.03 ERA and 2-2 record through fourteen appearances, thirteen of which have come in relief. Gates has tallied two saves, which leads the team, in addition to forty-six strikeouts, which also leads all members of the pitching staff. Gates is a veteran, and can provide some long relief through the middle innings if needed.
Leon Davidson leads the team with fifteen appearances on the mound, but has done so over just 14.1 innings pitched. If things are close and the Aggies are looking for a good situational guy, Davidson has been their man. Despite his 7.53 ERA, he's one of just three pitchers on the roster with a winning record, currently sitting at 2-0.
Peyton Winebarger and Timothy Davila are the other two pitchers sitting on winning records, having combined for twenty-five relief appearances. Winebarger is the team's most-used left-handed pitcher, having tallied 20.2 innings pitched and a 4.79 ERA. As for Davila, he's a transfer from Catawba Valley Community College who has tossed 12.2 innings, sitting on a 6.39 ERA.
Similar to State, A&T has been testing things out with its weekend rotation throughout the season, but looks to have found their main three guys. Michael Johnson, Cole Parks, and Derek Martinez have all been major contributors on the pitching staff, and have settled into starting roles on the weekend. With MEAC schools playing four-game series this year, the coaching staff has been switching out the final role on a regular basis. I don't expect to see any of these guys on Wednesday, but they're still certainly worth noting.
Daniel Carter, Justin Fox, and Justin O'Neal have each made t least ten relief appearances as well, so don't be surprised to see one of these guys come in to eat up some innings.
Offensively, the Aggies are led by Cameran Brantley currently posting a .303 batting average on thirty-three hits. Brantley is one of just three players to start all thirty-one games for A&T, as he's done so alongside infielders Dustin Baber and Justin Williams. Baber currently hits at a .263 clip, with Williams just a few points above him at .274.
Outfielder Justin Rodriguez has been a key part of the Aggies' offense as well, currently hitting .291 and leading the team in home runs alongside Williams, as well as maintaining solo statistical leads in OPS, doubles, RBI, slugging percentage, and stolen bases.
Pfeiffer transfer Ryne Stanley typically handles the catching duties for A&T, while simultaneously hitting .247 on eighteen hits.
Leading off will likely be speedy second baseman Tony Mack. Mack is hitting .170 so far, but was one of North Carolina's top high school shortstops when he pledged to join North Carolina A&T. I'm most impressed with his genes, as his father played football, baseball, and wrestled at Howard in eighties. He's rightfully a member of the Howard Bison Athletics Hall of Fame. Interestingly enough, Mack is a black belt in taekwondo.
Third-year freshman Connor Knapp will likely get some burn as well despite struggling throughout the first half of the season. Knapp has hit just .197, forcing him to split time in the infield with Zach McLean. McLean has hit just .125, as the Aggies have struggled finding some offensive production from the corners of their infield.
Outfielder Camden Williamson has been a nice surprise over in Aggieland, having hit .288 in twenty games played. Williamson has gotten more playing time as the season has progressed, so I expect for him to start on Wednesday.
Alex Reyna, TJ Ash, Trevor Sheehan, and Xavier Bussey, all either first-year or second-year freshman, have played in at least twelve games each and have produced as well, a good sign for the future of Aggie Baseball.
State and A&T have met twenty-two times on the baseball diamond, with the Wolfpack holding an impressive 22-0 all-time advantage.
Most recently, the Wolfpack and Aggies met on March 11th, 2020 in a game that State scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win 8-7, ending on a two-run walk-off single by J.T. Jarrett.
Click that hyperlink for highlights from that game, which was State's final baseball game, and athletic event, before COVID-19 cancellations began around the country.
Tuesday's game will take place in Raleigh at Doak Field at Dail Park on State's campus. First pitch is set to come in at 6PM, and it will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra as well as a free audio stream through 88.1 WKNC and on the TuneIn Radio App.
State's coaching staff has not announced an official starting pitcher, but after the way left-hander Chris Villaman (2-2, 4.64 ERA) looked against Appalachian State last Tuesday and at UNC-Greensboro before that, I can't imagine that he doesn't get the start.
This shouldn't be a tough one for State. Riding a five-game win streak and taking on a below-average opponent has built some confidence within me about the baseball team, which may or may not be a good thing.
I'll take State to win 11-1, hopefully maintaining the program's perfect record against the Aggies.
As always, don't blame me if I'm wrong.
Thanks for reading, and Go Pack!