NC State rebounded. The Pack won used a seven-game winning streak and then finished the regular season with victories in 10 of its last 12 contest to actually end with a better winning percentage and conference record than the much-ballyhooed team of the previous year.
Entering the ACC Baseball Championship, NC State head coach Elliott Avent feels this team has nothing to worry about in terms of receiving a bid for the NCAA Tournament and is not surprised that the Wolfpack has shown improvement.
“Predictions are crazy,” Avent said of the expectations for NC State. “You can’t predict what will happen. I don’t know where we were picked in basketball this season but I told Mark [Gottfried] it was one of his best teams ever. A couple of breaks and they are going to the Final Four.”
“Invariably, even in a sport like football--where they know everything--they are going to get four or five in the top-10 wrong and those teams end up in a lesser bowl.”
In Durham, NC State begins pool play at the ACC Baseball Championship at 11 a.m. against third-seed Notre Dame. The Wolfpack--who won one of a three-game set against the Fighting Irish in South Bend during the regular season--will look to keep up with second-seeded and 8th ranked Miami. The Hurricanes rallied with seven runs in the eighth inning to defeat Virginia, 9-5, in the Pool B opener on Wednesday.
The Pack will face the Hurricanes on Friday at 7 p.m. and then close out pool play the following day against the Cavaliers, also at 7 p.m.
"They are a good team,” Andrew Knizner said of Notre Dame. “It should be a good game. We've played those guys for a three-game series so we pretty much know everything. I think we'll definitely take what we've learned and be ready to go [Thursday]."
Avent feels NC State should have been in the NCAA Tournament last season and thinks the Pack would have made noise if receiving a bid. The experience in 2014, along with the various tough spells over the past two months, have helped his team. He wants the squad to play loose and enjoy themselves in the postseason.
"All the things they've fought through, it will be a lot of fun starting tomorrow morning," Avent said. “When you learn how to stick through things in life, if you're good enough there's a reward at the end. Most people quit along the way.
“Look at our basketball team. We've followed a similar path the last few years. They lost like five of six, Trevor's [Lacey vs. Wofford] basket gets waved off and they stuck with it--went on an amazing streak that almost ended at the Final Four. We kind of did the same thing--stuck with it through a tough road in a tough league and now we've come out on top."
As for the Wolfpack, they have seen the best of what the ACC has to offer and are confident heading into pool play.
“I will put us up against everybody,” Bubby Riley said. “We are playing our best baseball now. We are not afraid of anybody.”