Austin Regional Preview: Boston College

Boston College is making its first NCAA postseason appearance since 1967. The Eagles have a talented club, led by catcher Tony Sanchez, who is batting .355 with 14 home runs. Burnt Orange Beat takes a look at the third-seeded BC club, which will face second-seeded Texas State on Friday afternoon.

When Boston College athletics left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in late-2005, the move was incredibly beneficial for the football program.

The football program has averaged nearly 10 wins per season in four years with the ACC.

The move isn't as easy in baseball.

Almost all of the ACC's 12 schools reside in warm-weather climates, from Florida to Georgia to the Carolinas. Poor weather has often been the bane of Maryland's baseball existence in the ACC.

But that's nothing compared to Boston College, which is approximately 430 miles northeast of the University of Maryland campus.

The Eagles had enough trouble competing in the generally baseball-deficient Big East, let alone a powerhouse league like the ACC. However, third-year head coach Mik Aoki is proving to be the right man for the job.

After posting 24-27-1 and 26-27 records in his first two seasons, respectively, Aoki has Boston College in its first regional since 1967. That's 42 years.

This wasn't supposed to be BC's year. The league's coaches picked Aoki's club to finish fifth in the six-team Atlantic Division. Despite a 13-15 conference record, the Eagles placed third and earned the eighth seed in the eight-team ACC Tournament.

Boston College was propelled to the NCAA Tournament by a strong showing in the ACC Tournament, as they went 2-1. The club lost to Florida State before defeating fourth-seeded Georgia Tech and fifth-seeded Miami.

The Eagles finished the season with a 33-24 overall record, landing them at 30th in the BoydsWorld.com Pseudo-RPI. BC is just two spots below Texas State, the number two seed in this weekend's Austin Regional.

Aoki's stellar 2007 recruiting class is one of the primary reasons he has been able to right the ship so quickly. Powerful third baseman Mickey Wiswall and pitchers Kevin Moran and John Leonard came in as part of a group that is growing to help shape a bright future of Boston College baseball.

But for now, the Eagles are focused on this year, and advancing to their first College World Series since the last time they made the postseason—1967.

Offense


While Boston College may not hit the ball quite as well as Texas State, their offense may be more efficient and better suited for Disch-Falk Field.

With a .311 team batting average, a .390 team on-base percentage, and 57 home runs, the offense has some on-base potential to go with strong power. BC also has the ability to move runners along, as they have 68 sacrifice bunts on the season. For comparison, the Longhorns have 76 sacrifice hits this year.

Boston College is arguably the ACC's best ‘small-ball' team.

Having said that, they aren't a particularly good stolen base club. The Eagles have swiped just 39 bases in 70 attempts [56%] this season. Only one player—leadoff hitter and centerfielder Robbie Anston—has more than six steals.

Probable Starting Lineup


C: Tony Sanchez, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.355 211 18 14 48 62 1/5 29 39 .455 .640


1B: Mike Belfiore, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.286 213 17 11 60 44 1/2 35 36 .391 .531


2B: Matt Hamlet, So.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.311 122 8 0 11 32 4/4 19 15 .399 .377


SS: Brad Zapenas, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.287 188 12 0 26 32 2/4 12 26 .337 .351


3B: Mickey Wiswall, So.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.318 236 17 14 62 48 5/8 17 49 .379 .568


LF: Andrew Lawrence, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.320 103 13 3 19 20 2/7 8 23 .395 .534


CF: Robbie Anston, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.358 229 21 1 29 53 15/18 32 43 .453 .489


RF: Barry Butera, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.333 198 9 4 34 35 6/14 18 41 .412 .480


DH: Mike Sudol, So.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.275 142 14 5 21 24 1/3 15 33 .352 .479


Bench


C: Harry Darling, Sr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.292 72 5 0 13 11 0/0 8 16 .369 .361


1B/OF: John Spatola, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.304 46 0 3 7 8 0/0 5 7 .385 .500


IF: Anthony Melchionda, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.194 31 2 0 7 4 1/1 0 5 .194 .258


Catcher Tony Sanchez is the clear leader of the Boston College offense. In fact, he is probably the most talented position player in the entire Austin Regional.

Baseball America recently ranked the junior as the thirty-second best prospect for the upcoming MLB Draft, where he is likely to be picked in the first round.

Sanchez is an outstanding defensive catcher in all aspects. He has been especially impressive throwing out runners this season, gunning down 40% of attempted basestealers.

Scouts aren't unanimously sold on Sanchez's offensive potential in professional ball, but at the very least, he is an outstanding collegiate hitter. The Miami native is batting .355 and he leads the team with 18 doubles, 14 home runs, a .455 on-base percentage, and a .640 slugging percentage.

Boston College gets the bulk of its power from three players. Sanchez, third baseman Mickey Wiswall, and first baseman Mike Belfiore.

Wiswall tied with Sanchez for the team lead in round-trippers with 14. His 62 runs batted in ranks second on the all-time BC single-season list. With 60 RBIs, Belfiore ranks fourth. He has 17 doubles and 11 home runs this year.

Leadoff hitter and table-settle Robbie Anston leads the club in batting average [.358], doubles [21] and stolen bases [15]. His .453 on-base percentage is just slightly behind Sanchez for the team lead.

The Eagles' depth was challenged when they lost starting shortstop Garret Smith to a season-ending injury. Freshman Brad Zapenas slid over from second base, and he has done an excellent job of filling in, batting .287 with 26 RBIs.

Sophomore Matt Hamlet took over for Zapenas at second. The Virginia native has not only batted north of .300 while laying down 10 sacrifice bunts in 122 at-bats, but he has also yet to commit an error on the season.

Starting Pitching


JB MacDonald, Sr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-7 90.0 87 32 69 4.70


John Leonard, So., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
1-4 59.2 83 22 47 7.24


Pat Dean, So., LHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
6-4 88.1 100 15 85 3.36


Mike Dennhardt, Fr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-1 50.2 49 24 42 4.97


Many experts projected the Eagles low in the ACC this season because of their relatively inexperienced starting rotation. BC lost two of its three weekend starters from last season, but they have pitched well this year, especially lately.

Right-hander JB MacDonald is slated to get the start on Friday afternoon against Texas State. The senior has been the club's most consistent starting pitcher this season.

Aoki is likely to go with sophomore righty John Leonard in the second game. Despite his 1-4 record and 7.24 ERA, Leonard has pitched better down the stretch. He surrendered just one run in 5.1 innings to defeat North Carolina in his final regular season outing. He uses an upper-80s, low-90s fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.

Though he has been Boston College's most effective starting pitcher for a few weeks, southpaw Pat Dean is listed as the club's third starter in the Austin Regional. Dean has defeated the Miami Hurricanes twice in the last few weeks, combining to allow one run in 14 innings.

Should the Eagles need a fourth starter, freshman righty Mike Dennhardt would be the guy. A 17th round pick of the Seattle Mariners last year, Dennhardt is one of the program's most prized recruits in the last few years. His power repertoire includes a low-90s fastball and a big curveball.

Bullpen


Mike Belfiore, Jr., LHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-1 37.2 40 10 47 2.15


Kevin Moran, So., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-2 50.2 50 25 36 2.84


Nate Bayuk, So., LHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
0-0 13.1 15 8 13 3.38


Matt Brazis, Fr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
1-0 17.0 18 7 20 5.82


Chris Kowalski, Jr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
3-1 25.2 24 18 19 5.96


Dave Laufer, So., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
1-0 15.1 12 11 13 4.11


Belfiore is one of the top two-way players in the nation. Doubling as the team's closer, he is 5-1 with eight saves and a 2.15 ERA this season, striking out 47 batters in 37.2 innings.

Kevin Moran has emerged as one of the bullpen's leaders down the stretch. A fastball-slider guy, the sophomore is 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA this year, notching 50.2 innings in 25 appearances.

While both Belfiore and Moran log over an inning per appearance, the rest of Aoki's bullpen does not.

Lefty specialist Nate Bayuk (3.38 ERA) has just 13.1 innings pitched in 29 appearances. Top righties Matt Brazis (22 G, 17.0 IP) and Chris Kowalski (26 G, 25.2 IP) have similar numbers. Unless Belfiore or Moran are in the game, expect to see a lot of mixing and matching with hitters.

Breaking Down the Eagles' Chances


Like Texas State, the Eagles simply cannot afford to lose a game, as they don't have the pitching depth to make a run through the loser's bracket. Boston College is a solid offensive club and their defense is decent as well, but the pitching has been far too inconsistent to be counted on.

There is no question that Boston College is a more battle-tested team than the Bobcats. The Eagles may even have more talent on their roster. But in reality, both teams appear to be equals on paper.

Should Boston College get by Texas State in game one, they must defeat Texas in the second game. Their big-game experience [BC was not swept all season] and potent, efficient offense will give them an opportunity to get past the Longhorns. The starting pitching has not been consistent, but all three pitchers [MacDonald, Leonard, Dean] have answered the bell against a top 25 opponent over the last few weeks.


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