I don’t think we’re going to just waltz through our regional like we did last year (by the combined score of 29-3), mostly because last year’s pitching staff gave us a decided advantage on most nights, and this year’s group is two guys (Kline and Artie) who are competitive every day and a question mark (can Scott Silverstein stop being terrible? Can Kyle Crockett stretch his excellence to work in a starting role?) in the three hole. The moral of this story is that you don’t get Hultzen/Wilson/Roberts every year, and that if this is what rebuilding years look like, than BOC is as good as advertised.
Army is up first. Don’t be overly intimidated by the Black Knights’ 41-13 regular season record: they hail from the Patriot League, where they spent the season beating up on the likes of Lafayette and Bucknell. Their schedule checks in as the 272nd strongest, their RPI is 110, and they went just 6-10 against teams in the top 200 (to compare, we were 34-17 against the top 200). George Washington (we won 16-4, Army took two of three) and High Point (we won 12-3, Army lost two of three to open the season) are our common opponents.
The Black Knights’ best player is first baseman Kevin McKaque, who owns a robust batting line (.389/.487/1.040, 5 HR, 44 RBI, 13 SB), and 3B Harold Earls (.347 avg, .433 OBP, team-high 23 steals), leadoff man and second baseman Zach Price (.324 avg, .427 OBP, 20-23 SB) are also forces to be reckoned with. As a team, they’re middling but decent (.290 avg, .386 OBP, 16 HR) at the plate, and rely on small ball (109 stolen bases and 69 sacrifice bunts, 10th and 24th nationally) to produce runs (5.7 per game).
On our end, Harrington (6-7 in the last two games of the ACC Tourney) and Derek Fisher (5-9 overall at the ACCT) are swinging a good bat, Stephen Bruno can still be counted on, and though we knocked 26 hits without an extra-base knock in the ACC Tournament, we generally seemed OK. On the negative side, Jared King seemingly hasn’t had a good game since before ACC play — he’s seven of his last 50 dating back to Radford. We still hit for a high average (.298), get on base (.402) and score runs (7.0 per) despite a leadoff hitter with the lowest OBP in the starting lineup (Chris Taylor’s, .371), and that’s a testament to our depth and versatility (and a lot of small ball — Keith Werman has more sacrifice hits than FSU, Boston College or Wake Forest). If we can get some healthy at-bats from Reed Gragnani and his .362 average, then all the better.
We’re starting BK (6-3, 3.68 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 89 K in 88 IP, .239 BAA). If this is indeed his last season (as a junior, he’s draft-eligible after the season), it’s going to be weird — I still mention his potential 83% of the time when I talk about him, and that’s probably because his results have never impressed proportionally to his stuff. Still, he’s the closest thing we have to an ace, and probably the guy I’d put on the hill if pressed with a do-or-die.
Army counters with the best they’ve got, righty Chris Rowley (11-0, 1.97 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 76 K in 91.1 IP, .186 BAA, six complete games, five shutouts). Rowley could probably pitch in a BCS conference, but he chose Army, and has rolled through the Patriot League. He doesn’t walk guys (17 in his 91.1 IP, compared to BK’s 42 in 88), so we’ll have to beat him ourselves.
We should win this game, but it won’t be a cakewalk — this is a good Army club. Best case scenario, we strike early and often, get Kline out (so he can pitch again later) and cruise to a win. Worst case, Rowley keeps the muzzle on our bats, Kline walks enough guys to produce some runs, and we lose a low-scoring nail biter.