What to Expect: UNC-Greensboro (2/23)
Coming off of Sunday's two-game sweep over Davidson, the Wolfpack Baseball team will now turn their focus to the UNC-Greensboro Spartans for a midweek contest set to take place on Tuesday, February 23rd.
It was a hectic weekend for the Wolfpack, who had to piece together a last-minute opponent after it was announced on Friday morning that VMI would be unable to compete due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Keydets' program. However, Elliott Avent & Co. will now put that behind them and focus on a talented UNC-G team representing the Southern Conference.
The Spartans come into 2021 with a solid set of expectations for this year's campaign. Billy Godwin's squad was picked to finish in fourth-place in the Southern Conference's Preseason Media Poll in addition to being selected to finish tied for third-place in the conference's Coaches Poll, including one first-place vote. These expectations were rightly deserved, as UNC-G posted an impressive 12-5 record in last year's shortened season which consisted of impressive wins over Virginia Tech and San Diego State, as well as series sweeps over Fairfield and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The Spartans started this season off on a positive note, winning two-of-three against Elon last weekend, highlighted by a come-from-behind win in Sunday's rubber match.
Last season, Pres Cavenaugh was the team's leader with an impressive .452 batting average, and he picked up right where he left off from last year this past weekend. Cavenaugh collected four hits on ten at-bats in his three starts against Elon, alongside drawing four walks, scoring three runs, and stealing a base. Cavenaugh collected an admirable .571 on-base percentage last weekend, which was the best amongst his teammates that started all three games against the Phoenix. After starting Friday's game hitting eighth in the Spartans' lineup and proceeding the move up to the six-hole on Saturday and Sunday, don't be surprised to see this breakout right fielder listed near the top half of UNC-G's lineup on Tuesday.
Third-baseman Zack Budzik and outfielder Greg Hardison were both Preseason Second-Team All-Conference selections, and posted solid weekends in their own right against Elon. Budzik posted a .385 batting average over the course of the weekend including a team-leading seven total bases and a triple on Friday. Budzik was the team's leader in stolen bases as well, totaling four steals in three games, which will definitely be something to keep an eye on this Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Hardison hit .25o on the weekend which was headlined by a double on Saturday. Hardison scored one run throughout the weekend, spending time at both the second and third hitting-position last weekend.
Corey Rosier hit the Spartans' lone home run against Elon during Saturday's 8-3 win for UNC-G, which was one of his three hits throughout the series. Despite that, the Spartans don't seem to have too much power in the batter's box, and look to play more low-scoring small-ball than anything.
Expect for UNC-G to bring a disciplined and fast offensive team to Doak Field on Tuesday. The Spartans drew an insane 23 walks in their series against Elon, and stole ten bases throughout the three-game set as well. While they currently only have two starters hitting above the .300 mark, UNC-G looks to win games based on timely hitting more so than big innings and performances.
On the mound, Alex Hoppe started the majority of the Spartans' midweek games in 2020, but looks to have moved into the weekend rotation this year. I'm expecting Phillip Sanderson to start against the Wolfpack on Tuesday, as he didn't make an appearance this weekend and was one of UNC-G's biggest contributors on the pitching staff last season. Out of the bullpen, Jack Voigt and Price King look to be the go-to guys for skipper Billy Godwin, who State fans may recognize from his nine years as the Head Coach at East Carolina.
Voigt made two relief appearances this weekend accounting for a team-leading seven strikeouts and gave up no earned runs over four innings pitched.
King made one appearance, doing so over a lengthy three and two-thirds innings. The Brunswick Community College-transfer gave up one earned run during his relief effort, but also showed a bit of a wild side by hitting two Elon batters.
If things are tight in the late innings, expect Brandon Stephens and Kross Robinson to make appearances, as both earned saves this past weekend.
According to the NC State Athletics archives, State has a 28-8 record over UNC-G throughout program history. In the two club's most recent matchup, State won 10-1 at Doak Field on April 11th, 2017.
The Spartans have won in Raleigh just twice in program history, coming in the years 1992 and 2013. Oddly enough, these were two of the Wolfpack's most successful seasons in program history. 1992 was State's last ACC Tournament Championship, and 2013 marked the team's most recent College World Series appearance.
(I'll be more than happy to trade a loss on Tuesday for one of those two results in 2021)
This is the first of two matchups between NC State and UNC-Greensboro this season, with the second coming on Tuesday, March 30th in Greensboro, wedged between the Wolfpack's ACC series against North Carolina and Clemson.
Tuesday's game will take place at Doak Field at Dail Park on State's campus, and will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra on the WatchESPN app at 3PM. In addition to that, various radio stations around North Carolina will carry the game as well.
After being officially announced to start Sunday's canceled game against VMI, NC State's Chris Villaman will be the Wolfpack's starting pitcher on Tuesday. Expect for Villaman to have a low pitch-count limit, as he's likely competing for a starting spot in the weekend rotation against Evan Justice and Sam Highfill, who both started in State's two games against Davidson on Sunday.
UNC-G provides a pesky midweek opponent for the Wolfpack. They're talented, play smartly and efficiently, and have potential to upset solid teams based on their playing style.
The Spartans certainly should not be overlooked, as State being a bit too eager to bust into ACC play could be detrimental for the Wolfpack. Despite that, I think State will ride their momentum from Sunday's two wins to another victory on Tuesday, as I believe Greensboro's offense won't be able to handle an impressive pitching performance from Villaman and State's bullpen.
I'll take the Wolfpack to win 8-1, hopefully pushing their record to 3-0. As always, don't blame me if this isn't the case.
Thanks for reading, and Go Pack.