RALEIGH — Every seat has been sold this weekend at Doak Field. If you want to see N.C. State host North Carolina in the biggest baseball series between the two rivals in a long, long time, youll have to watch online Friday and Saturday or on ESPNU Sunday.
Its going to be sold out, its going to be crazy, but once the first pitch is thrown, well just treat it like any other game, N.C. States Grant Clyde said.
Thats going to be nearly impossible. Theres too much on the line. The Wolfpack may be talking a good game about taking it one game at a time, not worrying about the opponent, but deep down, theres no ignoring the opponent and the stakes. If the N.C. State players forget for a moment, that sure-to-be wild crowd will remind them quickly.
North Carolina has been the alpha dog in baseball around these parts for a while now, and though N.C. State hasnt been far behind, the Wolfpack hasnt been able to close the gap, not head-to-head, certainly not in terms of postseason success, where the Tar Heels have made frequent visits to Omaha and the Wolfpack has stumbled.
Last year, the Tar Heels took two of three from N.C. State in Chapel Hill during the regular season, then spoiled the Wolfpacks chances of playing in the ACC championship game with a lame-duck win over N.C. State to close out pool play.
This year, both teams lead their respective ACC divisions. North Carolina (40-3) is No. 1 in Baseball Americas top-25 poll, while N.C. State (33-10) is No. 6. The Tar Heels 14-game winning streak ended Tuesday when they were upset by UNC Wilmington; the Wolfpack ran its streak to 15 with a win over Davidson on Tuesday.
Last years was pretty big, going into their place, Clyde said. This year, coming here, its pretty hyped up. So yeah, its pretty big.
This is their best chance to prove something to their rivals down the road, to demonstrate that the gap between the two programs is as small as it has been in a long time if there is one at all.
I would hope that were always going to be at the top, both of us, Carolina and us, speedy shortstop Trea Turner said. It would give us a little bit more confidence if we can, not leapfrog them, because theyve been No. 1 all season, but be right up there with them.
Chances like this dont come along often. Usually, its because the dominant program is slipping, but that isnt the case with the Tar Heels this season. On the contrary, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent acknowledged people whose opinion he respects have told him North Carolina may be the the best team theyve ever seen in college baseball.
And its different than two years ago, when the Wolfpack, in the midst of a disappointing season, swept the College World Series-bound Tar Heels at the Doak. There was no question about which was the better team, despite the results. Thats a question the Wolfpack is qualified to pose this weekend.
Its N.C. States progress that has made this possible, with talented, veteran players like Turner and ace Carlos Rodon. Even as the Tar Heels have pulled away from the pack nationally, the Wolfpack has kept pace.
If you ask me, it looks like things are pretty even, N.C. State weekend starter Ryan Wilkins said.
Just how even, N.C. State has a chance to prove this weekend.