In the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time, NC State battled in the regionals in each of the two years before coming up short. In 2013, after winning the ACC title, the Wolfpack lost a heartbreaking 12-inning contest to Tennessee in Knoxville. Last season State beat top-seed Georgia in Athens before falling twice to the Bulldogs in the Regional Final.
At the Harrisonburg (Va.) Regional last weekend NC State crossed the bridge. After blanking top-seed and host James Madison to reach the Regional Final behind pitcher Emily Weiman, the Wolfpack battled back from an early deficit with solid pitching and timely hitting to oust Fordham on Sunday.
NC State is in no mood to be as methodical in making the next step.
“Each year was a step,” NC State head coach Shawn Rychcik said. “Coming into this year, we talked about getting to a Super Regional right off the bat. I think those two regionals helped us so when we got to the situation this year we knew what to expect.”
“We are hopefully going to skip some steps and get to the World Series this year. It is a process, but hopefully we are not done.”
With a berth in the Women’s College World Series on the line in the best-of-three matchup versus the Ducks, the Wolfpack will feel confident after having played 12 games against teams in the Super Regionals this season. NC State’s record against the schools remaining (1-11) provides the Pack with an opportunity to expand in more ways than one.
In the Super Regionals, NC State is one of only two unseeded schools. Kentucky is the other after eliminating Notre Dame--who were swept by the Wolfpack in Raleigh in March. Despite struggling against the top teams during the regular season, State is bullish on its chances due to the competitive nature of the contests.
“Coach really set us up with harder and harder schedules every year, which has really helped us a lot,” NC State shortstop Renada Davis said. “This year we’ve played the hardest schedule I have probably ever seen. We didn’t win the games but to see how well we held them--within a swing of winning--we know we can hold them, if not win them.”
Beginning Friday, NC State will look to extend its journey into unchartered territory. While the path to get to Super Regionals was measured and the challenge ahead is arduous, the Wolfpack knows that a berth in the Women’s College World Series is within reach.
“One step at a time,” Weiman said of NC State’s NCAA Tournament run. “We are two wins away from the World Series--our dream--and I think anything can happen at this point. This is softball. That is why we play.”