After last weekend's three frustrating losses against Georgia Tech, the 3-4 NC State Baseball team will now turn their focus to a talented Miami squad this weekend.
The Wolfpack desperately need to pick up a series win, but it will be tough to do against one of the Coastal Division favorites and one of college baseball's longtime powerhouses. Without further ado, let's take a look at the 2021 Miami Hurricanes.
Miami was picked to win the Coastal Division in the ACC Preseason Coaches Poll, and the Hurricanes showed they would be a national championship contender early in the year by going to Gainesville, Florida and taking two-of-three from the unanimous top-ranked team in every major preseason poll, the Florida Gators.
Though after a huge opening weekend, Miami was then upset on their home field, losing two-of-three to #24 Virginia Tech.
The 3-3 Hurricanes are currently ranked ninth in D1 Baseball's Top 25 Rankings, one of seven ACC teams ranked, which does not take account for Duke, Florida State, NC State, and Wake Forest who all dropped out this past week.
Miami's offensive attack is headlined by two brothers, Adrian and Christian Del Castillo. Adrian, who catches, is one of the top players in the ACC, as Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball, and Perfect Game each had him on their First-Team Preseason All-American list. Through six games the younger of the two brothers has posted a .320 batting average, totaling eight hits and five RBI, as well as drawing three walks.
Adrian's older brother Christian is a transfer from Seton Hall who has gotten off to a quick start for the Hurricanes in 2021. Through six games he's currently batting .333 and leading Miami with eight RBI. Christian was named ACC co-Player of the Week after his performance in Gainesville during opening weekend, and has already moved up where he started the season in the batting lineup, now hitting sixth for the Hurricanes. It will be interesting to see what Miami's Head Coach Gino DiMare does with his lineup this weekend, Christian Del Castillo is playing far better than your average six-hole hitter.
True freshman Yohandy Morales has been a star for the Hurricanes so far this season, as he's the team leader in batting average at .370, runs scored with seven, hits with ten, total bases with sixteen, and slugging percentage at .593. Morales was a 2019 Under Armour and Perfect Game All-American during his junior year of high school, and has proven to be one of the best young players in the nation.
Overall, Miami builds their offense around contact hitting and plate discipline, as despite hitting just two home runs thus far this season, they've drawn an impressive thirty-seven walks through their two series in 2021, with veteran first-baseman Alex Toral accounting for eight of those.
Leadoff hitter Jordan Lala has been a key contributor for the Hurricanes in years past, but has struggled throughout this young season so far. He's hitting .208 with twenty-four at bats, eight of which having ended in strikeouts. This is another possible lineup shakeup that Wolfpack fans should keep an eye out for this weekend.
As for their pitching staff, Miami has announced that they'll start three right-handed hurlers this weekend, two of which being true freshmen. Junior Daniel Federman is set to start on Friday, with Alejandro Rosario scheduled to pitch on Saturday, and Victor Mederos getting the nod on Sunday. Rosario has been huge for the Hurricanes thus far, as he has struck out eleven batters through 11.0 innings pitched so far. Rosario has been one of the ACC's best pitchers throughout the season's first two weekends, posting a 1.64 ERA through two starts headlined by throwing seven shutout innings last Saturday against Virginia Tech.
This is Federman's first year in the starting rotation, as during his first three seasons in Coral Gables he was primarily used out of the bullpen. Federman has an 0-2 record so far this year, and hasn't gotten off to a great start with a 7.84 ERA through 1o.1 innings pitched. Federman has been a bit all-or-nothing, as he leads the team with fourteen strikeouts, but also has allowed thirteen hits, which is the most amongst Miami pitchers. He's also given up three home runs in two starts, which could be a big advantage for the Wolfpack's powerful offense.
Mederos has been solid as well, having not been granted a decision in either of his two starts. Mederos currently sits at a 4.35 ERA on 10.1 innings pitched, posting ten strikeouts so far. Sunday's game that Mederos is set to throw will be interesting, as the Wolfpack have yet to announce who they'll put on the mound against Mederos.
Ben Wanger, Anthony Arguelles, and Carson Palmquist have been the Hurricanes' main bullpen options so far, with each serving different roles within the back end of the pitching staff. Wanger has spent time at both Yale and USC over the course of his college career, as this is his first season with Miami. He was a Second-Team Preseason All-American according to Collegiate Baseball, and leads all Hurricane pitchers with four appearances. Wanger has a 1-1 record so far, picking up his win in Miami's Saturday come-from-behind victory over Florida. He's sitting at a 4.15 ERA so far, and is one of the Hurricanes' main long-relief options alongside Jake Garland.
Arguelles has thrown just 2.1 innings so far this year, but has done so over the course of three appearances, and appears to be used mostly in situational settings. He earned the win over Florida in their Sunday rubber match despite giving up two earned runs, and looked pretty solid this past weekend against Virginia Tech.
Palmquist is Miami's closer, and is one of the best in the ACC at shutting down opponents late. Palmquist has yet to surrender a run in 2021, giving up just two hits on 5.0 innings pitched. In three appearances, he's earned two saves and five strikeouts, holding opponents to a .125 batting average.
According to the NC State Baseball archives, State and Miami have met 54 times on the baseball diamond, with the Hurricanes leading the all-time series 35-19. Most recently, the teams met in a three-game series in March of 2019, with the Wolfpack sweeping the Hurricanes in Coral Gables, marking State's first-ever sweep over Miami.
Many Wolfpack fans will remember one game in particular against the Hurricanes, which was when Preston Palmerio hit a walkoff "Little League homer" during the twelfth inning of a game during the 2015 ACC Baseball Tournament Championship, which put State in Saturday's Championship Game against Florida State.
If you've never seen it, be sure to click on that hyperlink for one of my all-time favorite NC State Baseball moments, where you'll also see a candid moment of my thirteen-year-old self freaking out and jumping into my buddy's arms after it happened.
And check out State's uniforms while you're at it. Straight gorgeous.
This weekend's series will take place at Doak Field at Dail Park on State's campus, with 30% capacity expected to be permitted into the stands. Friday's game will start at 3PM, with Saturday's slated to begin at 2PM and Sunday's first pitch coming at 1PM. All three games will be streamed through the WatchESPN app on the ACC Network Extra, and WKNC 88.1 will also carry a radio stream, alongside the TuneIn app.
NC State Head Coach Elliott Avent has announced the Friday and Saturday starting pitchers for the Wolfpack, with Evan Justice and Sam Highfill maintaining the same starting roles they had last weekend against Georgia Tech. As for Sunday, State has yet to announce who will be on the bump. I'm predicting that Reid Johnston will make his way back into the starting rotation this weekend after a solid performance last Sunday, but after David Harrison's a strong effort against Campbell on Tuesday, I could also see him getting the nod.
Last weekend was depressing. It was honestly far beyond depressing. While I think the #Pack9 made some solid strides on Tuesday against Campbell, there's a big difference between a team representing the Big South Conference and a top-ten Miami squad.
I think State's lineup will carry them to one win this weekend, but Miami all-in-all being too much for the Wolfpack and taking two-of-three in the end. State desperately needs this series, as this marks the end of their ten-game home stand to start the season, and finishing that stretch with a losing record would not bode well for the rest of the season.
Hopefully the Wolfpack will prove me wrong and provide a pleasant surprise this weekend.
As always, thanks for reading, and Go Pack.