Preston Palmeiro was happy to see Virginia win the College World Series and end the ACC’s 60-year national title drought in baseball.
“That was good for the ACC,” Palmeiro, N.C. State’s first baseman, said. “I would much rather it be us, but you have to pull for the ACC.”
The fact that N.C. State beat Virginia three times in the four weeks leading up to the NCAA tournament wasn’t lost on Palmeiro.
“The way everything was going and the way we were rolling, if one inning goes a different way and I definitely think that could have been us,” Palmeiro said.
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The trick for the Wolfpack, which opens the 2016 season on Friday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. against Old Dominion, is to leave that “one inning” in the past.
Palmeiro’s referring to the meltdown in the NCAA regional final at Texas Christian last season. The Wolfpack led 8-1 in the middle of the eighth inning but couldn’t close out the Horned Frogs, who managed to scratch out six runs on two hits, two passed balls, two balks and three errors en route to a 9-8 win in 10 innings.
“We’ve put it behind us,” said Palmeiro, who led the Wolfpack last season with 49 RBI. “We know what happened, and we will use it as motivation but it’s not a daily topic of conversation.”
Catcher Andrew Knizner would rather remember how N.C. State got to that point in the season, two outs away from a fourth Super Regional trip in eight years, rather than the bitter ending itself.
The Wolfpack won 13 of 16 games, after a 21-17 start, to play its way into the NCAA field. It made the ACC championship game and the regional championship game but couldn’t quite close out either time.
We’ve put it behind us. We know what happened and we will use it as motivation but it’s not a daily topic of conversation.
N.C. State first baseman Preston Palmeiro
Leaders Logan Ratledge, Jake Fincher and Bubby Riley will have to be replaced from last year’s 36-23 team, but the Wolfpack has many of the same parts back from last year’s team.
Knizner and Palmeiro both hit better than .300 as sophomores last year and were the team’s leaders in RBI. Sophomore lefty Brian Brown, who led the team with 2.03 earned run average, returns at the top of the rotation, as does fourth-year junior Johnny Piedmonte, who had a 3.26 ERA.
The key for this N.C. State team, in coach Elliott Avent’s 20th season with the Wolfpack, is to build off of how it played in the last month of last season, Knizner said.
“That gave us confidence that we can compete with the best teams in the country,” Knizner said.
N.C. State starts the new season ranked in the top 25 by both DIBaseball.com (No. 10) and Baseball America (No. 19). North Carolina, which is ranked No. 16 by DIBaseball, opens its season Friday on the road with a three-game series at No. 11 UCLA. Duke starts the year with Cal in a three-game set at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Avent, who has led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament 11 times in the past 13 years, took the preseason rankings as a sign of respect for the program. Unlike years past, he wasn’t ready to make any grander proclamations.
“This team has a chance to be good,” Avent said.
And after a disappointing exit in 2015, that’s all the Wolfpack wants in 2016: another chance.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio