N.C. State and Carlos Rodon also dropped their season opener a year ago, so let's not go and push the panic button just yet, but the Pack will need to shore up some shoddy defense and, you know, actually score some runs if they hope to make another run at Omaha. N.C. State was shutout 3-0 by Canisius Sunday in the first game of the season for both teams.
Though he struggled a bit with his command, Rodon was fairly solid in his 2014 debut, allowing just one earned run in six innings. He had six strikeouts against four hits but plunked three batters, walked one, and uncorked a wild pitch. The game opened ominously, as Mike Krische and Jesse Kelso banged back-to-back doubles to give the Golden Griffins a 1-0 lead before an out was recorded. Brett Austin picked Kelso off third to help Rodon escape the frame without further damage.
After Bubby Riley botched a fly ball to open the third, Rodon got a couple of outs but then went all Tzamtzis, hitting two batters in a row before walking in a run. The run was unearned thanks to the error that gave Canisius an extra out in the inning. A two-out error by normally sure-handed second baseman Logan Ratledge allowed the Golden Griffins to tack on another run in the fifth. Of course both of those unearned runs proved to be meaningless anyway; Canisius got all the offense it would need just two batters into the game.
Andrew Woeck was masterful in relief, throwing 25 of his 37 pitches for strikes and facing the minimum nine batters over his three innings thanks to Austin erasing the one hit he allowed with a caught stealing. Holding Canisius to three runs is no small feat; the team batted over .300 and posted a .416 on base percentage a year ago en route to averaging over seven runs a game. The Golden Griffins won 42 games and gave North Carolina all it wanted in the Chapel Hill regional.
But still...no runs? The Pack have now been shutout in consecutive games dating back to the CWS elimination at the hands of the Heels. That's the only time they were shutout last season.
With the goose egg in the opener, now is as good a time as any to start the age-old tradition of questioning Elliot Avent's consistently curious lineup construction. He had Ratledge batting third. The guy owns just about every career record at the baseball factory that is Ardrey Kell High School, where he clubbed 13 home runs, but he has just one round-tripper in 322 college at bats and a career OPS well south of .700. He went 0-for-4 behind Trea Turner, who reached base three times on singles, and Austin, who singled and walked. If he is the best Avent has to offer in the three-hole, scoring runs is likely to continue to be a problem for this team.
Jake Fincher, who posted a .399 on base percentage and reached base in 62 of the Pack's 66 games a year ago, was batting fifth due to Avent's odd notion that you need to have a leadoff type come to the plate more often than just leading off the first inning. Scratching my head. Riley's rough Pack debut included an 0-for-4 day at the plate from the cleanup spot.
Jake Armstrong, who was second on the team with a .440 on base percentage a year ago, did not play. Instead, designated hitting duties were shared between a couple of backup catchers. Chance Shepard and John Mangum combined to go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Last year, Mangum fanned in 50% of his plate appearances and Shepard managed five at bats all year. If they've improved, they didn't show it in the opener.
Freshman Kyle Cavanaugh beat out Preston Palmeiro for the first start at first base and went 1-for-4. Andrew Knizner got the nod at the hot corner and also went 1-for-4. Garrett Suggs (I told you Avent loves him some scrappy little dudes) got the start in right field and went 1-for-3 with a strikeout. The Pack fanned nine times in all and left nine men on base.
Rohn Pierce and Alex Godzak combined for the shutout for the Golden Griffins. Pierce, a junior righty, has been nothing special in his career, as he entered 2014 with a 4.92 ERA over 128 career innings. Godzak is a nasty little lefty who normally starts for the Griffs; he was a Collegiate Baseball freshman all-American last year after going 8-3 with a 3.36 ERA. He and Pierce actually combined for a no-hitter of Iona a year ago.
The teams will try to do it again at the Doak Monday at 1 p.m. Curiously, Canisius is also slated to play North Carolina Central in Durham Monday at 6 p.m.