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Pack 9 open 2017 with win at Hawai’i

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State’s biggest concern this weekend has to be starting pitching, but so far so good.

Rainbow...baseball...that’s as close as I can get.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Six is a number that stands out for NC State as it opened the 2017 baseball season with a weekend set in Hawai’i. The Pack enter the season ranked #6 in D1Baseball.com’s poll, but they also will run out three starters over the weekend who finished last year with an ERA over six. Only one of those three, Sean Adler, made a start a year ago.

Adler got the opening day nod and did not look like the guy who posted a 6.94 ERA last year. The senior lefty combined with two relievers to scatter five hits in a 4-0 shutout for the Pack, their first opening day shutout since a 1-0 win over Old Dominion in 1973. Adler missed a lot of bats a year ago, striking out more than a batter per inning, but also walked nearly a batter per frame. Against the Rainbow Warriors, Adler went five efficient innings, walking one but striking out only one. He needed just 60 pitches to get through five innings and appears to be dialing back the strikeout stuff in favor of pitching to contact earlier in the count. So far, so good.

Austin Staley followed Adler with two shutout innings, allowing a hit and fanning two. JUCO transfer Zach Usselman made his Pack debut with two scoreless frames to finish Hawai’i off.

Offense was in short supply against Hawai’i starter Brendan Hornung, who went seven strong and allowed just a pair of runs. He struck out Joe Dunand, who is on the Golden Spikes watch list, three times en route to a nine-K performance. Brett Kinneman and Will Wilson hit back-to-back doubles off of Hornung to open the scoring in the second, and Josh McLain beat out an infield hit two outs later to plate Wilson, but that was all the Pack could muster off the Warriors’ ace.

Wilson’s two-out double scoring Kinneman and Evan Mendoza gave the Pack insurance in the eighth. Wilson, who will surely face pressure for at-bats at DH from highly touted fellow freshman Brad Debo, made the most of his opportunity by finishing 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. Kinneman also doubled twice in his three official at-bats and added a walk.

The Pack’s top four in the order went just 2-for-17 in the game and, as a whole, State struck out 10 times.

Cody Beckman, who posted a 6.05 ERA a year ago, will get the nod in game two. First pitch is a little before midnight on the east coast and the game can be streamed through the Rainbow Warriors’ website. Beckman’s numbers are a bit misleading, as he had one disastrous outing last year (loaded the bases and gave up a granny without getting an out) that broke his ERA. By season’s end only Will Gilbert was better out of the back of State’s pen. Beckman, who spurned the Mets to return to Raleigh, can certainly improve on his draft position—25th round last year—will a successful conversion to starting. He was a starter over the summer in a wood bat league and pitched well.

Tommy DeJuneas (6.37 ERA a year ago) will hope starting rather than relieving will help him recapture the dominant form of his freshman season in Sunday’s series finale. As a freshman, DeJuneas allowed a mere 4.94 hits per nine innings while fanning 12.9 per nine. In his sophomore slump, the former number ballooned to 10.62 while the latter plummeted to 8.2. DeJuneas was a little better this summer in the Cape Cod league, where he posted a 4.70 ERA in 12 outings, all in relief.

The three former relievers getting starting nods is necessitated somewhat by presumed staff ace Brian Brown’s injury. The junior lefty is on the shelf with tendonitis.

The win over Hawai’i was State’s first ever. It was also the first ever meeting between the two teams.