DURHAM, N.C. – Duke and N.C. State will meet for the first time in two years when the teams square off in a three-game ACC series this weekend in Raleigh, beginning with a 6:30 p.m. meeting on Friday, April 11 at Doak Field. The teams will continue with another 6:30 p.m. contest on Saturday before ending the series with a 1:30 p.m. outing on Sunday.
The Blue Devils (22-10, 4-10 ACC) shook an offensive slump on Wednesday after posting a 10-0 win over UNC Greensboro. The 10-run outburst was the 12th double-digit outing of the season for the Blue Devils, who strung together 12 hits in the contest while swiping four bases against the Spartans. After five scoreless innings from starter Christopher Manno, Duke’s bullpen went to work as usual, allowing just one Spartan to reach base over the last four innings.
In addition to a solid defense that leads the conference in fielding percentage, the Blue Devil bullpen has been the main constant for Duke this season as the group has put together a 9-1 record, eight saves and a combined ERA of 2.46. The staff is anchored by sophomore right-hander Michael Ness, who owns a meager 1.95 ERA through a team-leading 12 appearances. Included in his 27.2 innings of work are two wins, nine scoreless outings and 10 appearances of at least two innings. He is holding ACC opponents to a .258 batting average on the way to a 3.24 conference ERA.
Duke will employ a new starting rotation this weekend as right-hander Dennis O'Grady (3-0) joins the group for a Saturday start. The two-way freshman has been used primarily as a reliever, but made a mid-week start earlier in the season in which he tossed six scoreless innings against Alabama A&M to notch his first career win. He has since gone on to hawk two more wins while putting together a paltry 0.48 ERA through 18.2 innings of work, allowing his first run in his last appearance to end a streak of 17.2 scoreless frames.
Junior Andrew Wolcott (2-2) will take the ball Friday while freshman Grant Monroe (4-2) is slated to close out the series on Sunday. A 6-6, 240 pound right-hander, Wolcott has consistently churned out quality starts for Duke, holding the opposition to three earned runs or less in six of his seven starts. Conversely, Monroe has racked up a team-leading four wins, two of which have come against top-25 opponents.
Offensively, Duke is led by two of the best hitters in the conference in sophomore outfielders Alex Hassan and Jeremy Gould. Both rank among the top-15 in the ACC in batting average, with Hassan’s .385 clip putting him in the fourth spot on the conference list. Hassan has been Duke’s top run scorer this season, crossing the plate 34 times for an average of over one run per game, while Gould has been Duke’s leading RBI man with 29 batted in on the season.
Fellow sophomores Gabriel Saade and Ryan McCurdy have also made solid contributions, both offensively and defensively. Saade was moved back to the leadoff spot in the Boston College series and has since gone to steal a base in each of the last four games, giving him a team-leading 13 on the season. He also owns the team lead with 14 extra base hits and four home runs along with a .528 slugging percentage. McCurdy, meanwhile, has settled in well at third base and in the batter’s box, raking a .291 average while scoring 25 runs, which is already more than he scored all of last season.
Scouting The Wolfpack
Anchored by three solid weekend starters, N.C. State boasts one of the best pitching staffs in the conference. The starting trio of Clayton Shunick (3-3, 2.13 ERA), Eryk McConnell (4-1, 4.33 ERA) and Eric Surkamp (2-2, 5.29 ERA) have led the club to a combined ERA of 3.12 for the second-lowest mark in the conference.
Shunick has emerged as one of the ACC’s top starters and is holding opposing hitters to a .217 batting average for the fifth-lowest clip in the ACC. He possesses tremendous command and has already racked up 51 strikeouts through 42.1 innings while dishing out just 10 walks.
Sophomore left-hander Jimmy Gillheeney has taken over as the Wolfpack closer and has excelled in the role, racking up seven saves and a win while giving up just one earned run through 17.1 innings. Also included in his 11 appearances are 23 strikeouts and a .153 opponent batting average.
Offensively, N.C. State is led by a trio of upperclassmen in seniors Matt Payne and Ryan Pond and junior Jeremy Synan. All three are batting over .320 on the season with Synan’s .345 clip leading the team. Pond has been the team’s main run contributor, driving in 26 runs and scoring 24 with six home runs, and was most recently named ACC Player of the Week after leading N.C. State to a three-game sweep over Wake Forest last weekend. Marcus Jones and Dallas Poulk have also provided big bats for the Pack, as the pair have combined for seven home runs, 36 runs and 26 RBI.
The Series With N.C. State
N.C. State leads Duke 138-119-1 in the all-time series after taking two of three games in their last meeting in 2005. The teams have been evenly matched since 1997, however, with the Wolfpack putting together a slim 14-12 lead in regular season contests during that span. Duke has taken four of the nine three-game series since 1997 with their last series victory coming in 2004. N.C. State has swept Duke twice (1991, 2003) in the regular season.
On Deck For The Blue Devils
Following the three-game set with the Wolfpack, Duke will begin a six-game week that features a home double header against N.C. Central, a single contest at Campbell and a three-game ACC series against No. 27 Clemson at Jack Coombs Field.