N.C. State shortstop Diaz takes charge

Shortstop has taken reins of baseball team

calexander@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2012 

N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, left, watches as vs UC Bakersfield bats against the Wolfpack during a game played May 4, 2012 in Raleigh, NC.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent began a three-game suspension Tuesday as the Wolfpack faced UNC Greensboro.

Avent was edgy watching from his Doak Field office, but what he could see was soothing – junior shortstop Chris Diaz again taking charge.

Diaz banged out three hits, raising his batting average to .386, and drove in a pair of runs as the 13th-ranked Pack rolled 7-0 in its final home game of the regular season.

Avent was suspended by the ACC for making contact with an umpire Sunday at Virginia Tech. He will miss the first two games of the series against top-ranked Florida State that will begin Thursday.

Avent had little to say Tuesday about the suspension. But asked about Diaz, about the impact he has had on the Pack’s season, the words flowed freely.

“I’m not a big numbers guy and I don’t think Chris is either,” Avent said. “The thing Chris has been for us is the leader in everything we do. He’s been a model of consistency.

“He has maintained the quarterback position on the team. He has been to us this year what Derek Jeter has been to the New York Yankees for several years. He steadies your team. As he has steered the ship, we have kind of gone.”

Diaz leads the Pack (37-13, 18-9) not only in batting average but in hits, doubles, total bases and RBIs. He’s third in the ACC in batting, trailing only James Ramsey (.391) and Jayce Boyd (.390) of Florida State (41-11, 22-5), which has clinched the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

Diaz and Boyd share the ACC lead with 78 hits. With 22 doubles, Diaz is tied for first with Chad Pinder of Virginia Tech.

Slotted second in the Pack’s hitting order, Diaz has benefitted from having leadoff batter Trea Turner on base, and threatening to steal so often. Turner, a freshman, is the NCAA leader with 51 stolen bases.

“It’s always good to be in the second spot behind Trea Turner because pitchers always want to throw you fastballs and not let him steal,” Diaz said Tuesday. “And then, with the power threats I have behind me … ”

Danny Canela, batting third, is hitting .344 and Ryan Mathews .335 in the clean-up slot. For Diaz, it’s a nice spot to be in.

“I’ve been getting a lot of pitches to hit and been fortunate to find a lot of holes,” Diaz said, smiling.

That’s being a bit too modest. Diaz, who said he has been able to maintain strength with better conditioning this season, has shown good patience at the plate.

During the fifth inning Tuesday, Diaz slapped an 0-2 pitch for a single. In the sixth, a liner to center brought in two runs for a 6-0 lead.

“There’s not one thing he doesn’t do well,” Turner said. “He’s a leader, vocally and by example.”

Diaz has been steady in the field, too. Turner was a good high school shortstop but quickly was shifted to third at N.C. State.

Diaz was born in Miami but played three years at Apex High after his family moved to the Triangle. He followed his older brother, Jonathan, to N.C. State, which meant instant comparisons.

“Chris wasn’t highly recruited,” Avent said. “He’s more of a late-bloomer. His brother was probably the best shortstop I’ve ever coached and a great fan favorite because of his enthusiasm and how hard he played. It hasn’t been easy following in Jonathan’s footsteps.”

But Chris Diaz has made his own mark with the Pack. He likely will be an All-ACC selection this year, could get some All-America notice, and has enhanced his pro prospects approaching the Major League Baseball draft in June.

Diaz soon will have a decision to make: go pro or return for his senior season.

“I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “Right now we’re just focusing on this year and getting as far as we can. Then we’ll see what happens next year.”

Avent noted Turner has been strongly lobbying Diaz to stay, and Turner didn’t deny it.

“That would be awesome,” Turner said. “That would make us that much better.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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