College : : Story
Thursday, June 06, 2013

N.C. State welcomes red-hot Rice

Kendall Rogers        

Raleigh Super Regional
Rice (44-18) vs. North Carolina State (47-14)
Where: Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C.
Game 1: Friday -- 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 2: Saturday -- 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 3: Sunday -- 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Winner plays Chapel Hill Super Regional winner in first College World Series game

Starting pitching


North Carolina State has one of college baseball's elite pitchers in left-handed starting pitcher Carlos Rodon, while Rice, as a whole, slightly has the better weekend rotation.

It's an interesting set up matchups to watch this weekend.

But let's start the analysis with an inside look at Rice. The Owls have a very good ace right-handed pitcher in Austin Kubitza. Kubitza is a sure-fire pick for the top few rounds in Thursday's MLB draft, and has good overall stuff. Kubitza was up to 92-93 with his fastball earlier in the year, but has settled in around 88-89 with that fastball, along with a devastating 82-85 slider that has some serious tailing movement and late break. It's a definite swing-and-miss pitch.

Keep an eye on right-handed pitcher Jordan Stephens this weekend. Stephens put together the performance of his career last weekend against the Ducks and is riding a hot arm going into the weekend. Stephens can get up to 91 with his fastball and has good depth on his secondary offerings. Stephens has a 2.48 ERA in 112 1/3 innings of work.

Then there's John Simms. Simms can either be great or just average, but when he's on, his bulldog-like mentality just seems to take over. Simms has decent velocity on his fastball, getting to 90 or a bit above, and enters the weekend with a 2.61 ERA in 103 1/3 innings, along with 90 strikeouts and 34 strikeouts. Teams only are hitting him at a .223 clip.

As for North Carolina State, things seem to start and end with left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon. Rodon has the hot hand entering the weekend, tossing yet another postseason gem last weekend against William & Mary. Rodon has elite stuff with a fastball that was up to 93-94 late in the game the past two weekends, while his mid-80s slider is a plus pitch most of the time. Rodon also utilizes a changeup, but it's a pitch that wasn't used often when I saw him earlier this year.

Senior right-handed pitcher Ethan Ogburn is another talented arm to watch for the Wolfpack. Ogburn won't blow you away on the mound, he tends to have good pitchability at times. Ogburn has started 12 games this spring and has a 2.95 ERA in 55 innings, along with 32 strikeouts and 13 walks.

Lastly, keep an eye on freshman left-handed pitcher Brad Stone. Stone's 5.28 ERA might give fans the impression that he's not an effective pitcher, but that's the opposite of reality. Stone has a good left-handed arm, sitting 86-89 with his fastball, along with a 79-81 changeup, and a 72-74 curveball that is very good at times.



Rice doesn't have an incredibly deep bullpen, but of the arms it does have, they're a premium bunch with unorthodox right-hander Zech Lemond leading the charge.

Lemond has quickly become one of my favorite relievers in college baseball this spring with a strong showing. Lemond has been a workhorse for the Owls this season, even putting together a great start for the Owls against Oregon earlier this week. Lemond has a fastball anywhere from 92-94, along with a curveball that plays very well when complemented with that fastball. He has appeared in 30 games this season with a 1.52 ERA and 14 saves in 71 innings of work.

Tyler Spurlin is another arm the Owls use at times, and he has a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings of work, while Blake Fox is a talented left-handed arm with a 3.41 ERA in 37 innings. Fox should really rise on the scene next spring, as he's a talented lefty with a fastball 90-plus on the radar gun. Lastly, keep an eye on Matt Ditman, who has appeared in 16 games and has a 5.50 ERA in 18 innings, while Chase McDowell and Kevin McCanna are a pair of power arms to watch.

While the Owls pack a powerful punch with Lemond, N.C. State has the deeper bullpen. Bulldog-like right-handed pitcher Chris Overman leads the Wolfpack pen. Overman only has a fastball in the 80s, but he's a hard-nosed guy who knows the strike zone. Overman has appeared in 19 games this spring, recording six saves and tallying a 0.39 ERA in 23 1/3 innings.

Also keep an eye on Grant Sasser, who has a 1.13 ERA and eight saves in 39 2/3 innings, Josh Easley, who has a 1.45 ERA in 23 appearances, and Ryan Wilkins, who has a 4.02 ERA in 47 innings of work and Josh Easley, who has appeared in 23 games and has a 1.45 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. Lastly, Andrew Woeck is another talented arm to watch. Woeck is a young arm who can run his fastball up to 90-91. He's appeared in 25 games and has a 2.80 ERA in 45 innings of work.

North Carolina State didn't need to turn things over to several relievers in the Raleigh Regional last weekend, but even if so, it is in pretty good shape.




Typically speaking, neither Rice or North Carolina State are considered to be overly productive offensive clubs. However, both have done a great job of getting key hits in the postseason thus far, especially the Owls, who had an offensive onslaught in the decisive game against Oregon earlier this week.

Considering that, let's start the offensive breakdown with a look at the Owls. With catcher Geoff Perrott hobbled and just out of a walking boot, the  Owls may once again have to rely on Hunter Kopycinski to get some key hits. They're fine with that, though, after he put together an impressive performance Monday against the Ducks.

Third baseman Shane Hoelscher is having a productive campaign with a .331 average and 25 RBIs, while second baseman Christian Stringer (.304/1/27) and Michael Ratterree (.270/9/41) are elite types of hitters when they get rolling.

I'd also keep an eye on designated hitter Michael Aquino. Though not an overly physical-looking guy, Aquino certainly has deceptive pop with a .312 average, 13 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 42 RBIs, along with a .420 slugging percentage.

Others to watch this weekend include Keenan Cook (.302/0/32), Skyler Ewing (.225/4/22), Blake Fox (.241/0/7) and one of my favorite young players in the game, outfielder Leon Byrd. Like most freshmen, Byrd has had his great and not so great moments. But he's a spark plug and plays much better than his .269 batting average would indicate.

Very much like the Owls, we certainly wouldn't classify the Wolfpack as having an overly productive offensive lineup, but there's some potential there at times.

The big key to slowing down the N.C. State offense is well-documented -- you must stop shortstop Trea Turner. Turner is arguably one of the top two or three position players in college baseball, and leads the team with a .377 average, 12 doubles, four triples, seven homers and 41 RBIs. But where he hurts you the most is on the base-paths, where he's 27-for-33 in stolen bases this spring.

N.C. State right fielder Jake Fincher is hitting .325 with 26 RBIs, while fellow outfielder Bryan Adametz is a scrappy hitter with a .309 average and 31 RBIs. Tarran Senay and Grant Clyde serve as the primarily power threats for the Wolfpack. Senay is an imposing figure at the plate and is hitting .292 with eight homers and 56 RBIs, while Clyde is a guy I've really liked down the stretch. Clyde was hitting in the low-200s earlier this season, but really started to get going at the plate after the home series against Virginia Tech. He's now hitting .288 with four homers and 25 RBIs.

I'd also keep an eye on Brett Austin, Logan Ratledge and Brett Williams, who all aren't hitting at great clips this season, but are trouble on the base-paths if they can get on base. The trio of sluggers combine for 41 stolen bases so far this season.




Both Rice and North Carolina State are solid defensive clubs for the most part.

Beginning with Rice, some will look at the .883 fielding percentage attached to third baseman Shane Hoelscher and assume he's bad at that position. However, he's been adequate to more than adequate each time we've seen him this season.

Meanwhile, Rice's tradition of stable shortstops has continued with Ford Stainback, while veteran Christian Stringer is a rock at second base. Behind the plate, the Owls obviously would love to have Geoff Perrott in the mix, who's solid back there, but aren't afraid of the possibility of using Hunter Kopycinski this weekend, either.

In the outfield for the Owls, center fielder Leon Byrd is one of my personal favorites. Byrd gets good jumps on balls and covers a lot of ground out there, essentially being the ring leader for a group that includes Cook and Ratterree.

As for North Carolina State, we give the Wolfpack a slight edge. Third baseman Grant Clyde is solid defensively, shortstop Trea Turner has good range and a good arm at shortstop, Logan Ratledge is stable at second base, and Brett Austin behind the plate is one of the more athletic catchers you'll find in college baseball.

In the outfield, the Wolfpack always feel good with any trio of players that is led by speedy Brett Williams, who like Leon Byrd, covers a lot of ground out there.

Overall, I don't see either of these clubs beating themselves from a defensive standpoint.



On Rice: "When Rice has Austin Kubitza on the mound, they feel like they can't be beaten. After, Jordan Stephens is a very solid college pitcher, but he's nothing that you haven't ever seen despite having a great weekend against Oregon. Simms is a very good arm, but there are times when he can be a little erratic. However, John is also the type of guy who can go out there and give you a complete game shutout, too. I liked their team when we played them. I didn't think it was an Omaha team when we got them, but credit Wayne and his staff. They're obviously doing a terrific job."

On N.C. State: "It all starts with Rodon and Trea Turner. I think Tarran Senay is a pretty good player, but it all starts with Trea. You have to keep him off the bases if you want to beat those guys. In my opinion, you're not going to win with Rodon pitching, he's just on another level and shouldn't be in college at this point. The other starting pitchers are just OK, and the bullpen is just OK. Grant Sasser is a guy I liked on the back-end of the bullpen, while overall, this is just a team that plays solid baseball for the most part. N.C. State certainly won't overwhelm you."

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