Does Elliott Avent regret getting thrown out of what turned out to be the second-to-last game of his team’s season?
He does not.
Does the N.C. State coach regret the tirade that followed, one that earned him a two-game suspension and hours of “SportsCenter” replays on ESPN, including a slo-mo breakdown of the spin move he put on one umpire to resume his, ahem, discussion with the plate umpire?
He does not.
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“I don’t regret it,” Avent said. “Oh Lord, no. I don’t regret that at all.”
A month and a half after Avent missed the final game of the Wolfpack’s season, a 7-5 NCAA tournament loss to eventual national champion Coastal Carolina after N.C. State came within a strike of eliminating the Chanticleers, the passage of time has offered him no solace.
Avent still smarts over his ejection and suspension, not to mention what he called one of the two hardest losses of his coaching career – the other coming a year earlier when N.C. State blew a seven-run lead to be eliminated at the hands of Texas Christian – but would do it all over again.
He still feels the ejection came too quickly and without warning given the high stakes. (The umpire directed Avent back toward the dugout at least twice before ejecting him, but Avent might not have been able to see that from the dugout.)
He never expected the suspension, nor does he think it was ever adequately explained. (The officiating crew cited Rule 2-25, which covers “Prolonged or continued arguing, offensive language or excessive expressions directed at game official after an ejection,” but certainly didn’t do a very good job defusing the situation.)
He never will understand why the umpires insisted on continuing the next, climactic game in a downpour before finally postponing it to the next day, too late for the Wolfpack, whose pitcher couldn’t throw strikes with the sopping ball. (Avent is 100 percent, unequivocally right about that very avoidable debacle.)
So Avent watched from his office with former men’s basketball assistant coach Bobby Lutz, completely powerless to intervene. Lutz had been sitting in the front row behind home plate when Avent was ejected, but he watched the remainder of that game and all of the final game with the banned coach.
“It wasn’t easy,” Lutz said. “I think it helped him just to talk about things other than the game itself. We talked about times I’d been thrown out. We talked about a little bit of everything.”
Despite all that, the Wolfpack still had two strikes and two outs on Coastal Carolina in the top of the ninth when Evan Braband plunked Tyler Chadwick on the knee to prolong the inning, at which point everything fell apart. Avent initially thought right fielder Brock Deatherage snagged what turned out to be the pivotal line drive to give the Wolfpack the win. Deatherage actually trapped the ball, allowing two runs and putting Coastal Carolina ahead for good.
“When that ball was hit, the crowd cheered, me and Bobby slapped high-fives, we thought we’d won,” Avent said. “And then you heard, and it was obvious, I saw it on the replay, we were an inch or half-inch away. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to go through as a coach, not to be a part of it. Whether you can help or whatever with your team, you always hope you can help as a coach.”
Not being a part of the rest of that regional I think was unfair in my opinion, something I’ve never been given an explanation on or understood
N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent
To be certain, Avent. 60, bears no ill will toward Coastal Carolina. On the contrary, he was thrilled to see the Chanticleers use their upset of N.C. State as a springboard, winning a super regional at Louisiana State and storming through Omaha, Neb., to the title, one of the great unexpected stories in college athletics in a long, long time.
N.C. State came closer than anyone to derailing that team of destiny, and while it might be a stretch to say the Wolfpack would have followed the same path, it certainly was a realistic possibility given how closely the teams showed they were matched.
“I actually pulled for Coastal maybe harder than I’ve ever pulled for anybody other than (former N.C. State coach) Ray Tanner when Ray Tanner was taking South Carolina to the national championship because of our personal friendship. But I pulled for Coastal harder than any team I’ve ever pulled for, because I became a fan,” Avent said. “I was a fan of their team. I thought they were a lot like us. Very tough, very hard-nosed, very resilient, very good and they were very versatile.”
For Avent, the repercussions from the way the season ended linger. He still hasn’t fully recovered from the copperhead bite that forced him to miss a series at Louisville. He was in a walking boot away from the field during the NCAA tournament and still struggles with stairs, and he probably will until November at the earliest. (On the field, he somehow shook off his crippled ankle for that Mario Williams-worthy spin past the umpire.)
Athletics director Debbie Yow said any conversations she has had with Avent about how the season ended will remain private, and while the two have discussed a contract extension – Avent’s current deal runs through 2018 – nothing has been finalized. In any case, he’ll still miss the first game of next season, serving the second game of that two-game suspension.
“Not being a part of the rest of that regional I think was unfair in my opinion, something I’ve never been given an explanation on or understood,” Avent said. “But I’ll learn from it, and as I’ve done every year, just keep trying to continue the path this program is on because I think it’s on a great path.”
That’s Avent, though. There’s no questioning his passion, for baseball and for N.C. State, even when it ends up being to his own detriment.
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IN HIS OWN WORDS
“I was excited (Coastal) won it. And then the other side, because they beat us, or we were the closest team to actually beating them, it doesn’t mean we would have won the national championship, but what it does is puts extra emphasis on how close we are to winning the national championship and how good we really are, because we probably had them beat more than any other team.”
“I watch back that replay and I feel the very same way I felt about it in live motion. I have no idea why I got thrown out so early and it doesn’t make any sense to me. I took one step out of the dugout and said very little with no curse words and you get removed from the biggest game of the year. There was no warning, just ‘you’re warned,” boom, next sentence, you’re gone.”
“If you watch it on replay, I just really don’t understand and did not understand the two-game suspension and I’ve never really been given an explanation. Those things bother you as a coach, but you learn in this business, you move on.”
“To finish that game in the downpour, an explanation should be given, why the umpires against everybody’s judgment thought we should finish that game in a downpour where our pitcher who had struck out five out of six and breaking ball was his best pitch could grip nothing but a fastball.”
“I grew up in the era of Lou Piniella. I grew up in the era of Earl Weaver. Arguing in baseball is as much a part of baseball lore as peanuts and beer and Pepsi, you know what I’m saying?”
“I said where is the pitch because my pitcher who hasn’t shown emotion in four years is bent over on the mound. I just asked, ‘Hey where was the pitch, what’d you see?’ and he said ‘That’s enough, you’re warned, you’re out of here.’ It didn’t make any sense.”
“If you know you’re out there against a team as good as Coastal Carolina was, and you’re in the visiting dugout, we weren’t in our own dugout which is a little strange in our own ballpark, as a coach, I think you owe it to your ballclub to try to fire them up a little bit – fire them up and make sure we’re going to fight this thing out. This is a team that fights, so Coastal, watch us fight. So at that point, my obligation as a manager of that team is to go back to the days of Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella.”
N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent on his ejection and suspension from the Wolfpack’s NCAA regional games against Coastal Carolina, the eventual national champion, in June.