With No. 1 Louisville next on N.C. State’s baseball schedule, Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent is on the lookout for copperheads and confidence.
He’d love to avoid the former but is desperately hoping for the latter for his N.C. State team after a difficult start to the 2017 season.
Injuries, pitching deficiencies and hitting woes have the Wolfpack off to a 12-10 start (3-3 ACC) headed into the weekend ACC series with the Cardinals (19-1, 6-0). The first game is Friday at 6 p.m. at Doak Field.
Avent figures his luck against Louisville can’t be any worse than it was last year. Two days before N.C. State’s trip to Kentucky, a copperhead snake bit Avent while he was walking his Labrador Retriever puppy, Sammi, near his house. Avent ended up in the emergency room and he missed the three-game series.
N.C. State, which started the season ranked No. 6 in one national poll, hasn’t been able to find its footing this season. The Wolfpack took two of three from ACC foe Miami last weekend and had won 6 of 8 before Tuesday’s home loss to Campbell.
“We’ve lost some of our confidence,” Avent said. “Hopefully, we can figure some things out.”
Louisville, which won its first 19 games of the season, offers the latest challenge for the Wolfpack, which is just 6-6 at home this season.
Consistent pitching has been an issue all season with injuries to top starter Brian Brown and reliever Cody Beckman compounding the problem.
Brown has only thrown seven innings all season. He has had some soreness in his left forearm (his pitching arm) and Avent has tried to be cautious with the junior starter.
Beckman broke a bone his left hand (his pitching hand) in the second game of the season (an 8-3 loss at Hawaii) and missed a month.
Senior lefthander Sean Adler (2-2, 3.81 ERA) has been the Wolfpack’s best starter while senior righty Joe O’Donnell (1.50 ERA) has been Avent’s top option out of the bullpen.
Brown had his best outing against Miami last weekend, a 5-2 team win that was interrupted by rain, and Avent is hopeful to get more from him as the season progresses.
Avent will try a different lineup against the Cardinals on Friday, out of necessity and in the hopes to get the bats going. The Wolfpack is hitting .254 as a team this season, compared to .303 last year, and only two lineup regulars – centerfield Josh McLain (.361) and catcher/designated hitter Brad Debo (.333) – are hitting better than .300.
Two of the mainstays from last year’s NCAA team, shortstop Joe Dunand (.237) and rightfielder Brock Deatherage (.233), have gotten off to a slow start.
Avent benched Dunand and third baseman Evan Mendoza in the middle of Tuesday’s loss to Campbell. He brought in Brett Kinneman and Stephen Pitarra, who combined for five hits and helped the Wolfpack rally after falling behind 7-2 in the fourth inning.
Pitarra, a second baseman by trade, is penciled in to make his first career start at first base, Avent said, after senior Shane Shepard suffered a quadriceps injury trying to beat out a ground ball against Campbell.
Avent’s willing to try a little something different to jumpstart his team.
“Usually my teams get better as the season goes along, and this team can be the same way,” Avent said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Louisville at N.C. State
Friday: 6:30 p.m., ACC Network Extra, WKNC-88.1
Saturday: 1 p.m., RSN, ACC Network Extra, WKNC-88.1
Sunday: 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra, WKNC-88.1
Where: All games at Doak Field, Raleigh