College World Series

NC State's Brett Austin puts defense first

csmith@newsobserver.comJune 13, 2013 

Brett Austin is in a slump at the plate. Not a meager slump, but rather a 0-for-18 in the last four games, 4-for-36 in the postseason kind of slump.

The lack of pop in the sophomore catcher’s bat led him to send out a tweet on Monday, the day after N.C. State clinched its first trip to Omaha in 45 years.

“To all of those that are concerned … Don’t worry I’m saving all these hits for Omaha!”

Aaron Bates, a two-time All-American for the Wolfpack, responded: “Just keep throwing out runners and you guys will be fine, Congrats bud!!”

While those numbers might be alarming for the Wolfpack faithful, considering Austin is the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, his defense has improved compared to last year when he was relegated to right field for most of the season.

Austin’s focus on defense in the offseason led to a standout campaign, and coach Elliott Avent said there is no need for concern.

“The easiest thing to do is to play great defense when you’re playing great offense,” he said. “Playing great defense when things don’t go your way offensively is the hardest thing to do in sports. He’s hitting in the three hole, trying to perfect two different swings … and then going out and catching 17 innings.

“If I had to name an MVP today, it would probably be Brett Austin. What he’s done behind the plate for us has been phenomenal.”

This season, Austin has committed just three errors while compiling a .995 fielding percentage as the full-time catcher.

Though his numbers at the plate haven’t been spectacular in the postseason, he had two strong performances during an 18-inning game against North Carolina and a 17-inning game against Rice. In both games, Austin did not allow a passed ball and threw out a combined four base runners while catching all 35 innings.

If anyone knows about defense, it’s Francis Combs, catcher for the 1968 Wolfpack team that went to Omaha. Combs always took pride in his defense, calling himself a “great defensive catcher, who knew how to work with pitchers and call a game.”

“He’s been huge for this team,” Combs said. “If you look back at last year, he struggled some with balls getting by, but he’s clearly improved this year. He’s been like an ironman back there. I’ve been impressed with his defense, but also by his focus that he’s shown in those long games.”

Prior to Austin’s career at N.C. State, the Charlotte native was selected in the supplemental first round with the 54th pick overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Austin decided to turn down the opportunity and play for the Wolfpack.

The switch-hitting catcher was one of only two players taken in the first round or supplemental round not to sign.

Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede was the other.

Dwight Smith, Jr. went before Austin and signed to an $800,000 signing bonus, and Hudson Boyd, taken after Austin, ended up with a $1 million signing bonus.

“Brett Austin turned down an incredible amount of money to go to college, to go to chemistry and math,” Avent said jokingly. “I think he showed you what he’s made of. And I think he really showed you what he was made of in that 17-inning game … in the heat and humidity and with a rain delay.

“Him turning down that money showed what he’s made of character-wise, and now he’s proving that on the field.”

Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith

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