Even though Quinton McDawg beat me to the punch already, I promised I’d give you a
first second look at N.C. State (much as I did for Lipscomb, Louisville, and Georgia Tech), so, with apologies if I am being either redundant, repetitive, or redundant, here goes:
The Wolfpack’s first and last trip to Omaha came 40 years ago, in 1968. Tomorrow will mark the start of the second super regional in N.C. State history; the A.C.C. squad lost the first such second-round matchup, to the Hurricanes in Miami in 2003. Tomorrow’s visiting team got here by going on a late-season hot streak that began on April 25 (the day before Georgia began the fade that ended in the Athens Regional after the loss to Lipscomb): N.C. State went 10-5 through the Wolfpack’s final 15 regular-season games, a stretch that featured outbursts of 12 runs against Maryland on May 10 and against Florida State on May 15, 14 runs against Boston College on April 27, and 17 runs against Maryland on May 11 and against North Carolina A&T on May 13.
In Jacksonville, the Pack enjoyed a brief stay in the A.C.C. tournament, shellacking Clemson by a 10-0 margin in between narrow losses to Georgia Tech and Miami. N.C. State breezed through the Raleigh Regional with an opening victory over James Madison and a pair of one-run wins over South Carolina.
As Garnet and Black Attack noted when getting ready for the regional round, the Wolfpack does not overpower the opposition with the long ball, but the quality of N.C. State’s pitching renders overwhelming offensive outbursts unnecessary. The Pack prevented a power-hitting Gamecock squad from scoring runs in bunches and that gave the A.C.C. squad the narrow edge it needed to prevail.
As long as we’re on the subject of the Carolinas, I probably ought to mention that I was in Wilmington, N.C., for a friend’s wedding last weekend. That’s me leaning on the rail in the middle and the groom wearing sunglasses to the right. (Photograph courtesy Lee Johnson.)
You already know about N.C. State’s right-handed hurler Clayton Shunick, who has worked a boatload of innings (95.2), allowed an anemic average to opposing batters (.215), compiled a minuscule E.R.A. (2.16), and notched a staggering strikeout total (108) while giving up equally few walks and earned runs (23 apiece). Shunick has excellent control (only three wild pitches all season) and he rarely makes mistakes (no triples and just five homers allowed).
Nevertheless, Shunick is not invincible. He has started 13 of the 15 games in which he has appeared (and gone the distance in one of them), but he has compiled only a 7-5 record. Shunick also has been known to hurl just a bit inside, plunking ten opposing batsmen in the process.
The Wolfpack’s other complete game came from freshman righty Jake Buchanan, who has only three starts to his credit but who has held the hitters he has faced to a lower average (.191) while compiling quite a respectable E.R.A. (3.11). Shunick’s fellow junior, southpaw Eric Surkamp, has quite a few K’s of his own (82) and also has surrendered identical numbers of walks and earned runs (34 each). On average, Surkamp concedes a little over a hit an inning (72 hits in 69.2 innings).
As Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt pointed out, though, N.C. State "has a solid starting rotation, but what makes its staff truly great is its deep, versatile bullpen." Even with closer Jimmy Gillheeney ruled ineligible for postseason play, the Wolfpack bullpen hasn’t given up a run since the first game of the conference tourney and it gave up only one hit during the regional round.
Despite the results of last weekend’s regional, though, there’s a lot of scoring that goes on at N.C. State, at least according to what Laurie McDowell told her best friend from Alleghany High School in that short interlude between the sixth and seventh chapters of I am Charlotte Simmons.
Last weekend, Wolfpack pitching coach Tom Holliday skillfully matched a succession of relief pitchers to opposing hitters on a batter-by-batter basis after getting over two scoreless stanzas from Sam Brown (3.12, 3-1). He then sent hard-throwing lefthander Alex Sogard (4.21, 4-2) to assume the role of closer.
In the batter’s box, N.C. State is led by outfielder Ryan Pond, who boasts a .332 average but has been hit by pitches more times (10) than he has hit a home run (8). In fact, the team leaders in dingers are outfielders Pat Ferguson and Matt Payne, each of whom has nine. Only one player from the Pack has stolen more than six bases and seven N.C. State batters have struck out more than 30 times.
In games occurring elsewhere other than Raleigh, this weekend’s visiting team has gone 12-12. That middling figure is typical of much that is true of the Wolfpack, in fact: N.C. State is 8-8 in one-run games, 4-4 in two-run games, and 3-3 in shutouts. The Pack, however, doesn’t need a lot of runs to beat you, as the A.C.C. squad is 2-14 when scoring three or fewer runs . . . but 5-1 when scoring four runs.
N.C. State seldom comes back to beat a team late, as the Wolfpack is 2-15 when trailing after seven and 0-16 when down after eight. Really, since the Pack is 6-10 when trailing after two innings but 23-3 when leading after a couple of cantos, we should have a good idea early on which way the wind is blowing tomorrow afternoon.