The No. 16 NC State baseball team opens its 2020 season with a weekend series against James Madison this weekend.
The Wolfpack finished last season with an overall record of 42-19 and bowed out of the NCAA Greenville Regional. Despite a number of big departures from last year’s team, the squad looks as good as ever.
Last season, the Wolfpack started the year with a shocking 19-game winning streak, and this year, there is no reason to think the Wolfpack can’t start the year on fire once again.
The last time NC State failed to win an opening three-game series was 2011, where the Pack fell in the second and third games against Elon after winning the first game 17-4. In 2014, it split a two-game series with Canisius after the Friday game was canceled, and in 2013, the Wolfpack lost its opening series, but just one of the three games against App State was played, as the other two were canceled.
The projected Friday starter for the Pack is junior lefty Nick Swiney. Last season as a reliever, Swiney posted a 7-1 record in 26 appearances, throwing a team-high 95 strikeouts in 56.2 innings pitched.
As for the other two starting pitchers, head coach Elliott Avent has opted to go for a pair of freshman in righty Matt Willadsen, who will pitch Saturday, and lefty Chris Villaman, who will pitch Sunday.
Both of the freshmen had very successful high school careers. Willadsen threw three no-hitters his senior year and had a career 1.2 ERA for Holly Springs High School. While Willadsen’s resume is impressive, Villaman’s is even more so. The lefty threw five no-hitters and two perfect games in high school, and he compiled a 0.68 ERA as a senior.
For more on NC State’s elite group of pitchers, check out this article from Staff Writer Will Thornhill.
The Wolfpack’s opponent for the opening series, JMU, posted a 31-26 overall record and did not make the NCAA Championship.
JMU’s biggest returning presence on the mound will be righty Nick Stewart, who started a joint-team-high 15 games last season. The other pitcher who also started 15 last season, Kevin Kelly, was selected by Cleveland in the 2019 MLB draft.
Stewart posted a 2.74 ERA last year, despite his 4-5 record. In 72.1 innings pitched, he struck out 61 batters and walked 33. Stewart also gave up just two home runs all season.
The leading returning offensive player for JMU is Nick Zona, who hit .337 last season as a freshman. Another offensive threat for the Dukes is Brady Harju, who hit just under .300 and led the team with nine home runs.
The last time these two faced off was a two-game series in 2018, which the Wolfpack swept with 6-4 and 15-2 wins. The Wolfpack has a 3-1 all-time record against the Dukes, with the sole loss coming in the first meeting between these two in 2002.
First pitch for the Friday game is set for 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday’s games are set to start at 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively. The games will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.