N.C. State didn’t get the national seed it wanted and the Wolfpack didn’t win the ACC tournament and it lost the 18-inning marathon with North Carolina and if N.C. State takes care of business this weekend the Wolfpack likely will have to fly 2,400 miles to Oregon for its NCAA baseball tournament super regional.
That’s a lot of baggage to carry. This is also a team capable of carrying it all the way to Omaha, Neb., giving N.C. State its best chance of making the College World Series in a long, long time.
“It’s very realistic,” N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner said. “Last year we had lower expectations and we were still only two wins away from Omaha, and we had to play the No. 1 team in the nation down there. We probably have a better shot this year, I would think. Anybody can make it. … A lot of teams make it there that you don’t expect, so I say, ‘Why not?’ ”
There are two NCAA regionals in the Triangle this weekend. While the Tar Heels are expected by all to make another College World Series appearance as the No. 1 national seed, the Wolfpack is not. Oregon got the final national seed that probably should have gone to N.C. State, which leaves a long road ahead.
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It’s a road the Wolfpack should follow all the way to Omaha. Despite the seeding flap, if N.C. State can make it through this weekend, it should have every chance of winning in Eugene. It’s a long trip, but it’s a far more winnable super regional than the Wolfpack had last year, when N.C. State had to face No. 1 Florida – a shorter trip but a much tougher opponent.
It has been 45 years since N.C. State last appeared in the College World Series. Coach Elliott Avent has been in charge for 17 of those. The program has come a long way in that period of time, going to three super regionals under Avent, including two of the past four seasons. It’s time to take the next step.
The Wolfpack has a lineup more than capable of getting runners on base and moving them around. N.C. State has won 26 of its past 30 games. The Wolfpack has as reliable a bullpen as there is in the country and a legitimate ace in Carlos Rodon. All the ingredients are there for a long run in the postseason.
“This team’s good enough to do that, there’s no question,” Avent said. “This team’s good enough to win a national championship. That’s what we expect. But there’s a road to travel down to get there and we know a lot of things happen down that road. We’ve been down that road many times. We’ve broke some hearts and we’ve had our hearts broken a couple times.”
Turner and Rodon will be back next season, but this season is a great example of how there are no guarantees. Turner and others were hurt, Rodon struggled, the Wolfpack was in big trouble and it took that remarkable closing stretch to get to this point, where the team is as confident as it is healthy. Meanwhile, half the starting lineup, starting pitcher Ethan Ogburn and a good chunk of the bullpen are seniors.
A chance like this might not come along again soon.
“We don’t want to waste the opportunity that’s been presented to us,” Turner said. “We definitely want to take advantage of where are. We have a very talented team and I think we can do it, for sure.”
The time is now for the Wolfpack. If not now, when?