Wolfpack freshman baseball players living up to expectations

calexander@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2012 

  • Strong first impression N.C. State’s freshman class has had a big impact on its baseball season. A look at the statistics for some of the Wolfpack rookies (through Monday’s games):
    HITTINGGABRH2B3BHRRBIAvg.Stls
    Trea Turner 45178546172334.34343
    Jake Fincher 41137284065017.29219
    Logan Ratledge 3597152770120.2781
    Brett Austin 441723746120025.2676
    PITCHING ERAW-LG-SIPHRERBBK
    Carlos Rodon 1.428-012-1182.15420132197
    Source: N.C. State

— Trea Turner began N.C. State’s baseball game Friday with a spotless white uniform and ended it with reddish dirt smudges all over.

“That’s usually how I determine if I played good or not – how dirty my uniform is,” Turner said, smiling.

The Wolfpack third baseman has been dirty, and good, a lot this season and leads the nation in stolen bases. And if it isn’t Turner stealing a base and stealing a run, it has been Brett Austin delivering a big hit, or Jake Fincher chasing down a long fly in center field or Logan Ratledge making a key play at second base.

And Carlos Rodon. The big lefthander from Holly Springs quickly established himself as one of the nation’s best college pitchers.

All are freshmen. All were a part of a recruiting class that was ranked fourth nationally by Baseball America and that has proven it had the heft to match the hype.

N.C. State upperclassmen such as shortstop Chris Diaz and catcher Danny Canela have done their part – Diaz, a junior, is among the ACC’s batting leaders – and provided leadership. But the freshmen have helped N.C. State build a 33-12 record entering Tuesday’s game against North Carolina A&T and pushed the Pack up to 13th in Baseball America’s Top 25 poll this week.

“We knew they were capable, but I don’t think you can expect freshmen to do this in college baseball, and they’ve done it all year long,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “They’ve shown no signs of getting tired. And the bigger the game gets, the better they play.”

N.C. State is 16-8 in the ACC with road series remaining against Virginia Tech and Florida State, the nation’s top-ranked team. The Pack believes it is strongly positioned to contend for an ACC title, bid to host an NCAA regional and perhaps make a run at reaching the College World Series.

“If we put the pitching together and swing the bats like we can, I like our chances,” Ratledge said. “I’d put us up against anybody.”

Rookie duo gets national call

Rodon and Turner have gotten the most national exposure. Heading into Tuesday’s game, Rodon was 8-0 with a 1.42 earned-run average, and Turner was hitting .343 and had 43 steals, in 45 attempts, before Tuesday.

Both accepted invitations from USA Baseball to join the U.S. Collegiate National Team this summer. The team will play 10 games in the state before trips to Cuba and The Netherlands.

“For two freshmen to get picked by Team USA, from the same team, that tells you something about them,” Avent said.

His first at-bat Friday in the Wolfpack’s 8-4 win over Cal State-Bakersfield served as atypical at-bat for Turner, underscoring his impact.

The Pack’s leadoff batter, he fell behind in the count 0-2 but worked his way to a walk. Pitcher Scott Brattvet and catcher Frank Martinez showed signs of stress as Turner danced off first base, and Turner soon was off for second and easily advanced on a passed ball.

Turner went to third on a groundout. Brattvet struck out Canela, but the ball bounced in front of Martinez, forcing a throw to first for the putout, and Turner streaked in, sliding to beat the throw to the plate.

Turner later singled in a pair of runs, and Canela, Ryan Mathews and Tarran Senay homered in the Pack’s 8-4 win at Doak Field.

“I don’t always have to have the big hit, not with the guys hitting behind me,” said Turner, from Lake Worth, Fla. “Without that pressure, it kind of makes me relax and makes the at-bat easier.”

Austin, Fincher and Ratledge are from Charlotte – Austin and Fincher played at Providence High, Ratledge at Ardrey Kell. Austin, a switch-hitter rated the nation’s fourth-best freshman in the preseason by Baseball America, turned down a big-money bonus from the San Diego Padres to play for the Pack and has been deployed at catcher and in the outfield.

Fincher and Ratledge, both high-school shortstops, weren’t sure how much they’d play as freshmen. But senior centerfielder Brett Williams tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the Pack’s season opener, putting Fincher in the lineup. Ratledge has been the starting second baseman since junior Matt Bergquist suffered an ankle injury a few weeks ago.

“Jake Fincher had to step in for someone we thought was our best player,” Avent said. “His high school coach (Danny Hignight) had told me, ‘You signed a big-time winner.’ That was in the back of my mind, and Jake Fincher has proved his high school coach right."

Before Tuesday’s game, Fincher was hitting .292 overall, .350 in ACC games. Austin has a .267 batting average this season and Ratledge, with fewer at-bats, was hitting .278.

Rodon has been the big man on the mound, but Avent also has gotten good outings from other freshman pitchers, including Travis Orwig (a 3.68 ERA in 13 appearances before Tuesday).

Ratledge said he was recruited by North Carolina and Clemson but wanted to be a part of this freshman class, this N.C. State team.

“The program here has always been strong, but after the class we got, it should help us not only this year in our play but in the future with other recruiting classes,” Ratledge said. “We’ve got some big names like Carlos and Trea who are getting a lot of exposure. That should make other recruits think, ‘This is the place for me also.’”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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