NCSU pitcher Ethan Ogburn angling for NCAA regional start

calexander@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2012 

— N.C. State likely will start righthander Ethan Ogburn in its NCAA regional opener Friday, and that’s fine with Ogburn.

He wants the ball. Badly.

“I’d love to run out there,” said the junior from High Point, who wants to help the Wolfpack beat Sacred Heart and get off to a smooth start in the double-elimination regional at N.C. State’s Doak Field. There’s also the matter of atoning for last year.

Ogburn took the mound in the NCAA opener against Stetson, and the Pack took a 5-0 lead in the first three innings. But Ogburn couldn’t hold it as the Hatters bounced back for an 8-7 victory in Columbia, S.C.

Ogburn’s line: four innings, six hits, five runs, all earned.

Ogburn smiled this week when asked if that loss offered a little extra motivation for this year.

“It does a little bit,” he said. “We’re just focused on one game at a time. That’s the way it has been all year. Nothing in the past means too much and there’s nothing in the future where you can look too far ahead.

“It’s definitely great experience to have postseason innings under my belt. But we’ve just got to come out and figure out Sacred Heart and get after it.”

Setting up pitching rotations for an NCAA regional is a delicate thing. The top-seeded Wolfpack has arguably the best pitcher in college baseball, freshman lefthander Carlos Rodon. However, State coach Elliott Avent robably will save him for the second game Saturday.

Sacred Heart (25-30) is the fourth seed in the regional, and win or lose against the Pioneers, the Pack on Saturday will face either second-seeded Vanderbilt or third-seed UNC-Wilmington.

In last week’s ACC Baseball Championship, Avent sent Ogburn to the mound in the opener against Miami. In 6.2 innings, the former Southeast Guilford standout gave up two runs on five hits, fanning five and walking one.

Ogburn threw 111 pitches, 66 for strikes, and was behind in the count on a number of batters. But he battled hard, and the Pack, with relief help from senior righty Vance Williams, pushed across two runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win.

“I love catching Ethan,” freshman catcher Brett Austin said. “He makes my job so much easier. What makes him effective is he has four pitches he can throw any time. He forces early contact and makes the game go by quick, and I think that’s what make him successful.

“We had a good rhythm, a good pace going (against Miami). That’s what makes him a good pitcher.”

Austin said Ogburn has developed a good slider, adding that Ogburn did not throw it much earlier in the season.

“He said he threw it in high school and kind of got away from it a little bit last year,” Austin said. “It’s been a good pitch for him.”

The Wolfpack was hoping to come back from Greensboro as ACC champions. That didn’t happen after a 4-0 loss to North Carolina, in a 12-inning thriller Saturday, kept N.C. State out of Sunday’s conference title game.

“We were just a hit here, a hit there away in that game,” Ogburn said. “We played some of the best baseball we’ve played all year in that game, but we just weren’t fortunate enough to get the breaks.”

The stakes are higher now. And Avent, while not fully ruling out Rodon as the starter in the opener, said he’s confident that Ogburn can give the Pack what it needs.

Ogburn was 6-4 as a sophomore with a 4.52 earned run average. He’s 4-3 this season with a 3.01 ERA, striking out 63 and walking 17 in 77.2 innings.

“He’s improved every day since he got here,” Avent said. “He’s a kid who could pitch and believed in himself, but if you take his transformation from his freshman year to his junior year, he’s still a kid who can pitch but believes in himself a lot more.

“His big thing is command. He can spot the ball anywhere he wants to. He has four pitches he can get you out with, but his command is his big deal and he keeps the ball down.”

And keeping the ball Friday, in an outing to replace the memory of last year’s NCAA regional start, is all that Ogburn wants.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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