Who’s the Pack playing?
Opponent: North Carolina A&T State (NC A&T)
Mascot: Aggies | School Location: Greensboro, NC | Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic
2017 Record: 28-25 (15-9, 2nd in Southern Division) | 2017 RPI Rank: 196
2016 Record: 13-41 (6-18, 5th in Southern Division) | 2016 RPI Rank: 287
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: NC State’s Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh, NC
Game Time: Tuesday, Feb 20 @ 3:00pm
TV: ACC Network Extra (ESPN3/WatchESPN/whatever it’s called these days)
Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh
Live Stats: http://www.sidearmstats.com/ncsu/baseball/
Tell me about this team
NC A&T was a downtrodden cupcake of a baseball program from 2013-2016. The program won no more than 17 games in any one of those seasons, going just 30-66 in a perennially poor MEAC conference, each year racking up negative overall run differentials in the triple digits, and posting RPI rankings in the 276-to-298 range each year. That span included the last two years of the Joel Sanchez era and the first two of the Ben Hall era.
But then 2017 happened. The program jumped 91 spots in the RPI rankings, finished just a half game out of first place in their conference division, and finished with an overall winning record for the first time since 2010. Needless to say things are looking up entering the fourth year under Ben Hall, the former Clemson infielder.
The team returns a lot of offensive firepower, but pitching will be the key indicator as to whether this team can and will challenge for a MEAC championship. Let’s take a look at who will take the diamond for the Aggies.
SS Brandon Melendez (SR) - .363 BA, .439 OBP, .446 SLG, 157 AB, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 36 R, 24 RBI, 21 BB, 45 K, 14-17 SB. Melendez was an honorable mention JUCO All-American in 2016 at Chattanooga State and a 2nd Team All-MEAC selection in 2017. Had an absurdly and unsustainably high .496 BABIP last year, so I’d expect his numbers to regress down some in 2018. He’s still a very good player with good wheels on the basepaths, but he does strike out at a very high rate.
OF Greg White (SR) - .350 BA, .431 OBP, .428 SLG, 180 AB, 12 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 40 R, 20 RBI, 18 BB, 28 K, 15-19 SB. White was a 2nd Team All-MEAC selection in 2017 and is probably the most underrated player on the team. The former Pitt CC transfer from Greensboro is solid offensively and defensively.
OF Myles Sowell (SR) - .345 BA, .393 OBP, .489 SLG, 174 AB, 6 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 41 R, 28 RBI, 11 BB, 31 K, 11-15 SB. Sowell has some speed, but I’d be surprised if his BA and OBP numbers remained as high this year as he had a high .415 BABIP last year and is not an overly patient hitter.
C Adan Ordonez (SR) - .291 BA, .362 OBP, .465 SLG, 172 AB, 12 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 20 R, 49 RBI, 14 BB, 11 K, 1-1 SB. Two-time 1st Team All-MEAC selection. Former Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and MEAC Rookie of the Year in 2015. This kid can handle a bat. Doesn’t walk much, but doesn’t strike out hardly at all, either. His BBs plus HBPs last year nearly doubled his number of Ks. That’s impressive.
2B Milton Rivera (SR) - .284 BA, .340 OBP, .426 SLG, 148 AB, 11 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 26 R, 24 RBI, 8 BB, 37 K, 6-9 SB. Rivera went a combined 4-8 with a 2B, BB, RBI, 3 R, and a SB in A&T’s season opening series last weekend. He’s a solid all-around player whose numbers should increase from a year ago, but like Sowell and a number of guys on this team, he’s an aggressive impatient hitter who won’t work a pitcher.
With so many experienced senior weapons, the offense will carry the torch for this team.
RHP Marcello Betances (SR) - 5-5, 5.35 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, .300 OBA, 65.2 IP, 76 H, 52 R, 39 ER, 42 BB, 53 K. Betances is one of two returning weekend starters for A&T. He started Sunday, though, so State won’t see him Tuesday.
RHP Michael Johnson (SO) - 4-4, 6.16 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .315 OBA, 64.1 IP, 86 H, 54 R, 44 ER, 18 BB, 36 K. Johnson was a weekend starter in 2017 as a freshman. He began last year great before struggling down the stretch. Johnson pitched two innings in relief to get the win on Sunday. He could appear in relief against State, but my guess is that A&T saves him for their series next weekend and/or keeps him for a relief appearance in their Wednesday game against High Point.
RHP Leon Hunter (JR) - 1-1, 2.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .241 OBA, 21.1 IP, 19 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 9 BB, 9 K. Hunter is my guess for who will get the start on the mound for the Aggies on Tuesday. He’s a big 6’3, 220-lbs kid from Garner (Southeast Raleigh HS) who made two starts in 2017 for A&T.
Really, there’s not much in the way of pitching for this team. Offense will have to carry the day.
Quick! Fun Facts!
This will be the 20th meeting all-time between the two programs, with NC State having won all 19 previous match-ups (my apologies now for this kiss-of-death).
A&T has had 19 players selected in the MLB Draft in program history, most recently Noah “Cutter” Dyals in the 2017 MLB Draft (17th round, Atlanta Braves).
All-Name Team Candidate: SR RHP Josh Strikeleather
RS-SR RHP K.J. McAlister looks like that dude you work with who always does that low-key laugh at everyone’s jokes no matter how bad they are.
NC State is coming off a solid, if not overly confidence-inspiring, performance in a series win over Seton Hall to start the 2018 season. NC A&T is certainly a program moving in the right direction under Ben Hall (they’re 1-1 on the season after splitting their season opening series with conference foe Coppin State), but this should be a fairly one-sided affair (barring excessive lineup meddling by NC State Head Coach Elliott Avent). Mathieu Gauthier is likely to get the start on the mound for the Wolfpack. I’d expect Gauthier to do well and a few fresh faces to make their debuts all across the diamond in a 12-3 NC State win.