Wolfpack baseball set to open ACC play
Head coach Elliott Avent and his NC State baseball team are getting ready to begin Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend when Pittsburgh comes to Doak Field at Dail Park for a three-game series.
“Conference play starts way too early,” Avent said. “We have three weekends to get ready in the ACC. The Southeastern Conference gets four. Jumping into conference play this early is pretty hard.”
The good thing for Avent is that his team already seems to be playing at midseason form. The undefeated Pack (11-0) traveled to historic Durham Athletic Park Wednesday to face North Carolina Central.
A win over the Eagles would match the best start (12-0) in program history. That record was set by the 1992 team — featuring All-America pitchers Matt Donahue and Jamie Wolkosky and freshman All-America Terry Harvey — that beat Clemson to win the 1992 ACC championship.
That team, coached by Ray Tanner, posted a 46-18 record before falling to Oklahoma State in the NCAA Stillwater (Oklahoma) Regional.
The Pack’s path this season has been rigorous. They opened the season against Bucknell, handily winning all three games, but then went on the road to face Elon and to play three games in Myrtle Beach and Conway, South Carolina, where it sandwiched a pair of extra-inning wins games over Kent State and Coastal Carolina around a win over Michigan State.
“We have played a tough schedule so far and have performed well,” explained Avent. “And it’s only going to get tougher when we start conference play.”
The Pack came home to face preseason Big Ten favorite Minnesota, a pitching-strong team that returned most of its lineup from the squad that lost to eventual national champion Oregon State in the NCAA Corvallis Super Regional.
“Minnesota has as good a pitching staff as you could want to have,” Avent noted. “Coming back and winning those three games was a good boost for us.”
Junior designated hitter Brad Debo gave the Wolfpack its second walk-off victory of the season with a run-scoring single to complete a three-run, ninth-inning comeback and seal a 5-4 victory in the third game against Minnesota.
The Pack has bona fide all-America candidates in junior shortstop Will Wilson, sophomore catcher Patrick Bailey and senior first baseman Evan Edwards, with Debo’s bat heating up as well.
Freshmen third baseman Vojtech Mensik and outfielder/second baseman Tyler McDonough have stepped into the starting lineup and are chasing Edwards for the top batting averages on the team.
Edwards is not only hitting at a .370 clip, he leads the team with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
“What we have is some really good leadership,” Avent said. “People have to learn how they are going to lead, and we have guys who are learning to lead from different places. They are learning how they can lead.
“So far, the locker room has been good, off-the-field stuff has been good and there are no issues academically.”
Starting pitching has been strong, and a revamped bullpen, featuring closer Dalton Feeney (two saves) and setup ace Kent Klyman (3-0), has kept Avent’s team in every game.
“The good thing is that we are playing a lot of players and pitching a lot of pitchers,” said the head coach. “It’s one thing to win when you throw the same nine players in the lineup and have seven pitchers that you go to. That leaves the other 15 or 20 wondering where they fit in.
“What has been good for our chemistry as a team is that we have seen a lot of players, and they have been contributing.”
And now, Avent will count on everyone to pitch in when the conference season starts this weekend.
Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.