Sports

NC State-UNC baseball series has postseason implications

N.C. State’s Elliott Avent hugs Josh McLain (15) as he comes off the field in the ninth inning during Auburn’s 15-7 victory over N.C. State in the Raleigh Regional at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, June 3, 2018.
N.C. State’s Elliott Avent hugs Josh McLain (15) as he comes off the field in the ninth inning during Auburn’s 15-7 victory over N.C. State in the Raleigh Regional at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, June 3, 2018. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Theoretically, Elliott Avent would like for both N.C. State and North Carolina to be picked as regional sites for the NCAA baseball tournament.

Practically, the longtime Wolfpack coach understands that only one team will likely start the NCAA tournament in their home park.

That adds another dimension to their rivalry, which will be renewed with a three-game series in Chapel Hill this week. The two teams will close out the regular season together, starting on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium.

“We should both host regionals but that is out of our hands,” Avent said. “So if one of these two teams is going to host, it might be the one who wins this series.”

N.C. State (39-13, 16-11 ACC) enters the series ranked No. 24 in the RPI, according to D1Baseball.com, and with the No. 64 strength of schedule and an 18-14 record against top 100 teams.

UNC enters its final homestand at 37-15 (also 16-11 in the ACC) at No. in the 19 RPI, with a No. 51 SOS and a 25-13 record vs. the top 100.

East Carolina (40-12), No. 4 in the RPI and No. 23 SOS, is likely to land one of the top eight seeds in the NCAA field.

The top 16 teams get to host a regional and the top eight are set up to host the Super Regional round. (College baseball’s version of the “Sweet 16”).

NC State coach Elliott Avent talks about the play of Will Wilson after the Wolfpack's 6-1 victory over Clemson at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, May 10, 2019.

Both N.C. State and UNC have work left to do to improve their NCAA resumes.

This series, and the ACC tournament in Durham next week, could help — or hurt — either team.

N.C. State junior Will Wilson said the players, after a 27-2 start, had felt confident about their chances to host. Then came an April slump but the Wolfpack has won five of seven games in May and is coming off of a series win over Clemson.

“We’re getting our confidence back,” Wilson said. “It feels a lot better than it did a couple of weeks ago.”

UNC has taken a different path to this point in the season. The Heels opened ACC play by being swept at Clemson and were 8-7 in league play after losing two games at Georgia Tech the first weekend of April.

Since then, Mike Fox’s team won three of four ACC series and enters the final week with a chance to win the Coastal Division.

“They’re really good,” Avent said. “It’s going to be a great challenge but that’s why you play because you love challenges.”

UNC is one game behind Georgia Tech (17-10) in the division race but would need to finish a game ahead of the Yellow Jackets for the tiebreaker.

N.C. State can’t win the Atlantic Division (it’s three games behind 19-8 Louisville and was swept by the Cardinals) but can still take one of the top four seeds in the ACC tournament.

The Wolfpack can also keep UNC from winning the division.

“I’ll be honest, I haven’t paid that much attention to it,” N.C. State junior Brad Debo said. “Spoiling it for them would be cool.”

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