NC State

NC State baseball escapes last season’s expectations

N.C. State's Logan Ratledge (6) is met at the plate by teammate Jake Fincher (30) after scoring in the second inning against UNC-W on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at Doak Field in Raleigh.
N.C. State's Logan Ratledge (6) is met at the plate by teammate Jake Fincher (30) after scoring in the second inning against UNC-W on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at Doak Field in Raleigh. 2013 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - ROBERT WILLETT

Elliott Avent chatted with the media for a good 20 minutes Tuesday.

The longtime N.C. State coach talked about replacing pitcher Carlos Rodon and shortstop Trea Turner, a pair of first-round picks. He talked about the need for a group of young players to emerge this season, especially pitchers.

He also talked about the switch by sophomore Andrew Knizner from third base to catcher – even though he has never played the position – and the strength of the ACC this season with six teams ranked in the preseason top 25.

He got around to the new, cleaner sight lines at Doak Field and dabbled with some weather predictions for Friday’s opener with Villanova.

There was no mention of a parade, not by Avent, at least until he was asked about it.

“Did you have to bring that up?” Avent asked.

It would be Avent’s preference to leave last year’s mistakes in the past.

N.C. State went from 50-16 and in the College World Series in 2013 to 32-23 last season and out of the NCAA tournament.

This time last year, optimism and bravado were at an all-time high for the Wolfpack. Coming off its first CWS appearance in 45 years, and with the return of Rodon, Turner and catcher Brett Austin, there was certainly reason for optimism and the preseason No. 5 ranking.

Media day was more of a spectacle than an information session, with the money quote coming from Avent.

“If we get (to Omaha), there could be a parade in Raleigh sometime in July,” Avent said last February.

The Wolfpack got a little ahead of itself, senior outfielder Jake Fincher said, when it started the season by talking about going back to Omaha, Neb., for the CWS and winning the national title.

This season, Fincher said, there will be a different approach.

“I think we’re just going to take one thing at a time,” Fincher said. “However it goes, we’re going to go with the flow.”

N.C. State has a few familiar faces, with senior holdovers from the CWS team Fincher, Logan Ratledge, Jake Armstrong and junior Brad Stone.

Knizner and sophomore first baseman Preston Palmiero also had productive seasons in 2014 and gained valuable experience.

But for the most part, Avent, who has led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament 13 times in 18 seasons, will have to rebuild this season.

“In the beginning, it’s going to be tough,” Avent said. “We have to figure out what our lineup is and where our production is going to come from.”

Avent hopes a talented group of newcomers will help the program get back on track. The potential of third baseman Joe Dunand, a freshman from Miami, precipitated Knizner‘s move to catcher. Avent is counting on freshman Tommy DeJuneas, a freshman from Charlotte, to help in the infield and as a pitcher.

Junior college transfer Ryne Willard will have the difficult task of replacing Turner, who led the team with eight home runs and 26 steals, at shortstop. Sophomore Cory Wilder will nominally take Rodon’s spot at the top of the pitching rotation.

Knizner, who hit .330 and led the team with 47 RBI last season, has to replace Austin, a fourth-round pick who led the team with a .344 average.

Knizner said there’s no way to replace those stars, but he also said it is refreshing to start the season free of expectations.

“It was tough (last season) for those guys, they had so much pressure on them,” Knizner said. “It is kind of nice to go into the season as an underdog.”