Wolfpack hungers for its own College World Series trip

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMay 31, 2012 

— Chris Diaz watched the College World Series on television the last two years. N.C. State’s All-ACC shortstop doesn’t want to do that again.

N.C. State’s journey for its first trip to Omaha, Neb., since 1968 starts Friday night at Doak Field against Sacred Heart. The regional round of the NCAA tournament, which also includes Vanderbilt (which reached the CWS last year) and UNC-Wilmington, will be a formidable challenge for the host Wolfpack (39-17).

And a road date with Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, would be the potential reward for the Super Regionals.

But Diaz has seen four different ACC teams make the trip to Omaha, as one of the final eight college baseball teams in the NCAA tournament field, the last two years. Each time he thinks, “Why not us?”

Six different teams, half of the ACC, have been to the CWS since 2006, with rival North Carolina going five times in six years.

“The past couple of years, we’ve been at home watching the (other ACC teams) on TV,” Diaz said. “We know we want to be in that position. With this chance to host the regional, we’ve put ourselves in a good position to advance and hopefully be in the position they’ve been in the past couple of years.”

While Omaha is the ultimate goal, and still five wins away, taking care of Sacred Heart (25-30) remains the first order of business. The Pack lost its opening NCAA regional game the last two years. It stumbled against Stetson last year in Columbia, S.C. In 2010, the Pack lost to Charleston in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and then was eliminated by Stony Brook, so there’s no reason for the Pack to look past the Pioneers, the Northeast Conference champions.

N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, who has guided the program to the NCAA tournament 12 times in 16 years, said he has already forgotten about last year’s regional. With a team dependent on a strong freshmen class, he said he’s not sure it matters.

“Last year has very little to do with this year,” Avent said.

But Diaz, who led the Pack in batting average (.364) and was second in runs batted in (50), said the returning players are motivated by last year’s experience.

“We felt like we had that regional,” Diaz said. “We didn’t play as well as we should have. Hopefully, we’ll come out and be successful in the first game and roll through the regional.”

A winning start has led to previous regional success. In 2003 and again in 2008, State won its opener and took the shortest route to the Super Regional round with three straight wins.

Miami, before it joined the ACC, eliminated N.C. State in two games from the Super Regional in 2003. State took Georgia to three games in 2008 before losing to the Bulldogs.

UNC, Virginia, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech have combined for 14 trips to the CWS since 2006.

N.C. State set a new school record with 19 ACC wins this season. With star freshman pitcher Carlos Rodon and a strong core, this team has a chance to be Avent’s best. The veteran coach believes the Wolfpack’s time will come.

“So many years, we’ve been close to going to the World Series, in the old format and the current format and a couple of things haven’t happened,” Avent said.

“The key is to keep getting there, being consistent and keep getting there. If you keep getting there, you’re going to bust that door down. I hope that’s this year.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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