Sports

NC State baseball trying to get back on track for final stretch

N.C. State’s Will Wilson (8) heads to base after making a hit during N.C. State’s 2-1 victory over Duke at Jack Coombs Field in Durham, N.C., Saturday, April 21, 2018.
N.C. State’s Will Wilson (8) heads to base after making a hit during N.C. State’s 2-1 victory over Duke at Jack Coombs Field in Durham, N.C., Saturday, April 21, 2018. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Sometimes it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself.

So when N.C. State’s baseball team had a 27-2 record on April 1, Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent knew his team couldn’t run hot forever.

That’s not how baseball works. This is a sport where being successful a third of the time makes you a hall-of-famer. The game, like water, always finds its level.

“I didn’t want the players to think about it but I told myself that,” Avent said.

April was unkind to N.C. State. The Wolfpack went 7-10 during the month and dropped ACC series to Louisville, Wake Forest and Notre Dame. There were heartbreaking close losses to South Carolina (10-8 on April 2) and Coastal Carolina (7-6 on April 10) smushed in for good measure.

N.C. State (37-13, 14-10 ACC) has won five of the past seven games to get some of its confidence back as it heads into the most important part of the season. The Wolfpack hosts Clemson (29-20, 12-12) this weekend and then closes the regular season at North Carolina (35-13, 15-9) next week.

With 37 wins, the Wolfpack still has a chance to host the regional round in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. But the ACC damage in April, now four games behind Louisville in the Atlantic Division race, cost the Wolfpack a realistic shot at its first division title.

In a way, Avent is glad the team hit the turbulence when it did. Everything went right — the pitching, hitting, fielding — to win the first 19 games of the season.

Injuries, notably to shortstop Will Wilson and relief pitchers Dalton Feeney and Kent Klyman, were a big part of the April problems. Catcher Patrick Bailey and designated hitter Brad Debo have also been playing through injuries.

Wilson, who suffered a freak injury after he hit a home run on April 16, is back in the lineup and healthy. A projected first-round pick in next month’s MLB draft, Wilson missed six games with a head injury.

He accidentally collided with UNCW first baseman Doug Angeli while he was rounding the base. Wilson was hustling before he realized it was a home run. And then he ran into Angeli. It was a one-in-a-million shot.

“They say if you stay in this game long enough, you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before and that obviously was something nobody has seen before,” Avent said of Wilson’s freak injury.

Wilson tried to play the game after the injury but Avent didn’t want to risk his draft stock or his postseason availability.

“We were very, very cautious with it,” Avent said. “We just wanted to make sure. He has such a great future in front of him.”

Wilson’s bat (.333 average, 14 home runs, 49 RBIs) was sorely missed. So was his presence, Avent said.

“Everyone tried to do a little bit more to pick up for his loss because he’s such a great player,” Avent said.

First baseman Evan Edwards (.347 average, 13 home runs, 54 RBIs) has tried to hold down the fort. Freshman centerfielder Tyler McDonough (41 RBIs) has also helped.

Wilson returned for the April 30 game with UNCW and went 0 for 5.

“It was the best 0 for 5 I ever saw,” Avent said. “Just having him back in the lineup, was like, ‘Wow, we’re going to be OK.’”

Klyman and Feeney are on the mend, Avent said, and Bailey is feeling better. Avent believes the bumpy stretch will help his team as it turns the corner into the postseason.

“It has been tough, it hit them like a Joe Frazier left hook, but they have maintained their composure,” Avent said. “These guys are still confident and they believe that things are going to get back to where we were earlier in the season.”

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