NC State's Brett Williams bounces back from ACL injury

calexander@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2013 

  • ACC tournament

    Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park

    Format: Round-robin pool play, with two pool winners playing in championship game.

    Pools

    A: No. 1 UNC, No. 4 N.C. State, No. 5 Clemson, No. 8 Miami

    B: No. 2 FSU, No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 Va. Tech, No. 7 Ga. Tech

    Schedule Wednesday

    11 a.m.: No. 7 Ga. Tech vs. No. 2 FSU

    3 p.m.: No. 6 Va. Tech vs. No. 3 Virginia

    7 p.m.: No. 5 Clemson vs. 4 N.C. State

    Thursday

    11 a.m.: No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 7 Ga. Tech

    3 p.m.: No. 8 Miami vs. No. 1 UNC

    7 p.m.: No. 2 FSU vs. No. 6 Va. Tech

    Friday

    11 a.m.: No. 4 N.C. State vs. No. 8 Miami

    3 p.m.: No. 7 Ga. Tech vs. No. 6 Va. Tech

    7 p.m.: No. 1 UNC vs. No. 5 Clemson

    Saturday

    11 a.m.: No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 2 FSU

    3 p.m.: No. 8 Miami vs. No. 5 Clemson

    7 p.m.: No. 4 N.C. State vs. No. 1 UNC

    Sunday

    1 p.m.: Championship game, Pool A winner vs. Pool B winner.

— The video of the catch has generated more than 4.4 million hits on YouTube and other media, which N.C. State claims makes it the most-watched college baseball play ever.

And the thing is, Wolfpack centerfielder Brett Williams, who made the catch, says it’s not even the toughest one he has made in college baseball.

The play really has to be seen to do it justice. In the Wolfpack’s Feb. 27 game against New Mexico State at Doak Field, Williams chased after a line drive headed to the left-center field gap, stretching out with a lunge to make the catch, then doing a quick flip and springing back to his feet.

“He pulled off the catch with such ease it didn’t even look hard. He does that all the time – something crazy,” Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner said.

Williams, a senior from New Bern, said he has been diving, catching and flipping for years.

“Ever since I was a little kid, playing sandlot baseball,” he said. “Sometimes, I’d just run as fast as I could and just see how far I could dive.

“I’ve always been comfortable with stuff like that. It’s always fun to play a sport where you can incorporate that into the game.”

Williams, arguably the ACC’s best defensive outfielder, makes tough plays seem routine. Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent admits to being biased about his guy, but said Williams is the best centerfielder he has had in more than 30 years of coaching.

“His greatest component is how tough he is,” Avent said. “He’s just very tough-minded. Obviously he’s very athletic. He’s one of those guys who when you ask him why he’s doing those things, he says, ‘Because I can.’ ”

A baseball adage is that a good team has strength up the middle. In the Wolfpack’s case, it’s easy to point to Turner and second baseman Logan Ratledge, who both have been steady in the field, and Avent said Brett Austin has had a good year defensively at catcher.

Then there’s Williams, the vacuum cleaner in center.

Two years ago, against Florida State All-American James Ramsey, Williams raced into deep center at Doak to haul in a long drive.

“I kind of caught it over my shoulder while jumping up and planted my feet on the wall and then came down,” Williams said. “Probably the most difficult catch I’ve made.”

Williams would rob Ramsey again that year. During the Wolfpack’s first game in the 2011 ACC Championship, he made another diving beauty on a liner by Ramsey.

“When a ball is hit in the gap, it’s like, ‘well, we’ve got Brett Williams out there,’ ” pitcher Carlos Rodon said.

The Wolfpack didn’t have Williams last season. He tore an ACL in the first game, making him a dejected bystander as N.C. State played its way to an NCAA Super Regional.

“Best seat in the house but not where I wanted to be,” Williams said. “But I did learn so much in being able to slow the game down and see some things that helped me mature as a player.”

Williams had a torrid start with the bat this season before cooling off. He is currently hitting .253. Avent has held him out a few games because of knee soreness, but he has 17 steals in 20 attempts – an indication he hasn’t lost a step after the ACL tear – and has made all the plays with his speed and arm.

During the Wolfpack’s 3-1 win on May 11 over Florida State, Williams nailed a runner at third with a strong throw.

“To come back from an injury like an ACL and do the things he’s done, it’s something God-given, almost like a Bo Jackson,” Rodon said.

The New Mexico State catch was the No. 2 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter top 10. The video, which quickly went viral, also was shown on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Williams’ 18-year-old sister, Bonnie, was on a field trip to New York that day and attended the “Good Morning America” taping. Williams said his mother, Cindy, had tuned in, knowing Bonnie was there.

“And they just happened to show the play,” Williams said. “My mom is watching TV, trying to find Bonnie in the crowd, and I pop up on the screen. To me, that’s the coolest part about it.”

The one view that counted most.



In the Pack's Feb. 27 game against New Mexico State at Doak Field, Brett Williams chased after a line drive headed to the left-center gap, stretching out with a lunge to make the catch, then doing a quick flip and springing back to his feet.

 

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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