N.C. State made the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row on Monday. Only four other ACC schools can claim the same and none from this state.
The Wolfpack (34-23) has won 14 of 17 games to get into the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 regional seed and will face Indiana (33-22-2) on Friday (7 p.m.) in the Lexington, Ky. regional. Host Kentucky (39-20) faces Ohio (31-26) in the first game of the double-elimination regional on Friday at noon.
That’s the good news for the Wolfpack, which has made the NCAA tournament 13 times in the past 15 years. The bad news is another year in the NCAA tournament brings up painful recent postseason memories.
N.C. State has suffered a pair of excruciating exits in the regional round the past two years. At Texas Christian in 2015, the Wolfpack led 8-1 in the eighth inning of the regional final before losing 9-8 in 10 innings.
And there was last year at home against Coastal Carolina.
“Obviously last year was another heartbreak,” junior rightfielder Brock Deatherage said.
Last year, the Wolfpack had Coastal Carolina down to its last strike in the ninth inning before the Chanticleers were able to scratch out a 7-5 win in rain-delayed regional final. To compound the Wolfpack’s anguish, Coastal went on to win the College World Series.
But there’s a positive to be learned from the experiences, senior pitcher Sean Adler said.
“It’s definitely motivation because we’ve been really close in consecutive years,” Adler said.
Third baseman Evan Mendoza, a junior, said while the team’s hot streak to get into the tournament carries more weight, the recent NCAA losses are in the back of the players’ minds.
“It never really leaves your brain,” Mendoza said.
N.C. State did avoid one of the national seeds in the tournament draw. Florida (42-16), the No. 3 national seed, and LSU (43-17), the No. 4 national seed, were both potential landing spots.
Indiana, the No. 2 seed in the Lexington regional, went 14-9 in Big Ten play with series wins over Michigan and Maryland, a pair of NCAA tournament teams. The Hoosiers rank No. 26 in the RPI, according to D1baseball.com, four spots ahead of the Wolfpack.
Kentucky, the host and top regional seed, went 19-11 in SEC play and finished second in the East division, two games behind Florida. The Wildcats rank No. 9 in the RPI and went 1-4 against ACC opponents this season, getting swept at UNC and splitting a pair of games with rival Louisville.
The winners of Lexington and Louisville regionals are lined up to meet in the best-of-3 Super Regional round.
N.C. State reached the Super Regional round in 2012 and again in ’13. N.C. State has a veteran team. Six juniors start in the regular lineup and four of the primary pitchers are least juniors. They would like to get back and heal some of the scars from the past two years.
“We’re going to do everything we can not to come up short again,” Deatherage said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
NC State vs. Indiana
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Cliff Hagan Stadium, Lexington, Ky.