For all the talk about N.C. State's homers, slugging percentage and ability to score runs in bunches, there's still the matter of going to the mound, taking the ball and getting the other side out.
For the Wolfpack, no one has done that better than Jake Buchanan.
The junior right-hander from Dallas, N.C., is the Pack's rock. Steady, dependable, gritty.
He was the Pack's Friday starter in ACC series, pitching the always-important opener, and made his one relief appearance a memorable one by beating Virginia Tech on Saturday in the ACC tournament. He'll be the guy State is counting on again this week in the NCAA Myrtle Beach Regional.
"Jake Buchanan is a tough, hard-nosed, competitive person," Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. "I've coached at N.C. State for 14 years. Jake Buchanan will go down as one of the toughest guys who has ever been here."
Buchanan, who starred at North Gaston High, doesn't have the 98 mph heater. He doesn't overpower hitters. While he's a solid 6-footer who is listed at 221 pounds, he doesn't tower and glower from the mound.
"But Jake can pitch for anybody in the country," said Tom Holliday, the Pack's associate head coach and pitching coach. "If I had one word to describe Jake Buchanan, he's a pitcher. I wish I had 12 others, and some kids are on the way to that. He kind of sets the bar high for our pitching staff."
Buchanan, 20, was not an All-ACC selection this season. With an 8-5 record and 3.65 ERA, he won't make any All-American teams.
But when the Pack needed a win to start a crucial series against Georgia Tech late last month, Buchanan struck out 13 and gave up three earned runs in a 6-5 victory.
When the Pack went to Florida State the next week, he took the ball in the opener and pitched the Pack to a 5-2 win.
Buchanan then capped the regular season with his second complete game of the year, striking out nine in an 8-3 win over Duke as State swept the Blue Devils to close ACC play with a 15-15 record.
Holliday said Buchanan's command of four pitches has made him effective against nearly any lineup.
"A couple of times we faced clubs that it looked like a mismatch," Holliday said. "What he did against Georgia Tech was unbelievable. They had seven left-handed hitters, and he struck out 13.
"At this level, if you can command three pitches, you're a pretty good pitcher. He now has four. He's a leader as a junior because he has stretched his talent so much."
Buchanan, a self-described country boy, mostly shrugs off such praise. Nice to hear, but it's not going to get him that first out in the NCAA regional this week. That's his attitude.
"I'll just do what I've done all year," he said. "I'll try to get ahead, try to get through that first inning, settle in and play my game."
Buchanan, called "an absolute bulldog" by Holliday, is happy to be back in NCAA play. For a while in ACC Tournament in Greensboro, he wasn't sure if he'd get to pitch more than one inning.
On Friday night, with a big storm advancing on the Triad, the decision was made to start the N.C. State-Georgia Tech game. Lightning could be seen as Buchanan and the Pack took the field for the top of the first inning.
"They said go ahead," Buchanan said. "Next thing you know, they told us to get out of there."
Buchanan had thrown 23 pitches and given up two runs in the inning when the game was postponed, and Avent said he would not pitch when the game resumed in the bottom of the first inning early Saturday. The decision by the ACC to start the game Friday seemingly had denied the Pack its top pitcher, perhaps jeopardizing State's ACC tournament and NCAA chances.
"I didn't know how it would play out," Buchanan said.
The Pack was hammered by Georgia Tech, but Clemson's win over the Yellow Jackets later Saturday meant the State-Virginia Tech winner would advance to Sunday's title game. Cory Mazzoni started for the Pack late Saturday but was struggling in the fourth when Buchanan came in, giving up six hits and one unearned run in six innings as State won 10-9.
"Coming out of the pen was fine. It worked out great," said Buchanan, who was chosen to the all-tournament team.
State didn't win the ACC championship, losing Sunday to Florida State 8-3. But the Pack did earn a No. 3 seed in the Myrtle Beach Regional, where it begins play Friday against College of Charleston.
The Wolfpack missed out on NCAA play last season. In 2008, State reached the NCAA super regional in Athens, Ga., losing in three games to Georgia and missing out on a trip to the College World Series.
State's one win: 10-6 in the second game. Buchanan, then a freshman making his fourth start of the season, stymied a team that had scored 67 runs in six NCAA games.
"Georgia could hit like nobody's business," Avent said. "Jake Buchanan stepped out there in front of a rough crowd and beat 'em. He's tough."
Avent is hoping for more of the same in this NCAA tournament. So is Buchanan.
"Last year was a big disappointment for us all," Buchanan said. "Freshman year was one of the most exciting times ever in my baseball career. Maybe we can get back to that level."
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