NC State’s path in 2015 has been interesting to follow. Winning streaks have been followed by slumps that would have sapped the energy of most teams--and perhaps have gradually weakened other Wolfpack squads in previous years. This season, it has been different.
It pays to be hot at the right time and, as winners in 13 of its last 15 games, NC State is surging. The stretch of play that began with the twin bill ‘double walk-off’ sweep of Virginia on April 16th has pushed a team that was once on the bubble for both the ACC Baseball Championship and the NCAA Tournament into a place of comfort. The Pack will play for an ACC title on Sunday and is a lock to reach a Regional--perhaps even as a host.
The comfort level did not actually begin with the wins over the Cavaliers, which pertains to why NC State has played well of late. The Wolfpack seemed undeterred during the struggles of March. Elliott Avent has been the team’s head coach for nearly two decades and that approach began with him. The universal message from Avent and the players during the slump was that the games were close, the squad could compete with anyone and the tide would eventually turn.
There is a symmetry between the recent play and the drubbing of Virginia on Saturday when considering NC State’s mentality over the course of the season. The Wolfpack never fretted and the cloud that hung over the team and saw it lose several close games seemed to be lifted with those two fortuitous wins. State never wavered in its approach and, when playing a game against the Cavaliers that was meaningless as to which school would advance to the Championship Game from pool play, the Pack went for the win as it had in other games that were of greater value.
Next up for NC State is its shot against Florida State for the conference crown and its chance for glory--the kind that earns trophies and gets t-shirts printed. The Wolfpack will enter the game feeling bullish not only with its recent play but also with how the ACC Baseball Championship has developed. If State could have scripted its path to the final, it probably would have been no different to what happened in pool play. There is also certain to be a sea of red in Durham to support the team. Everything is set up for the Pack to do something special.
In all honesty, the Wolfpack has already done something that is more glorious than winning a championship. Wearing the name ‘NC State’ across the chest and representing the block-S is supposed to mean something, and Avent’s bunch--whether knowingly or not--displayed that pride on Saturday in the pasting of the Cavaliers. It is an easy team for fans to rally around.
Even with a couple of lineup changes on Saturday to prepare for the finale on the following day, NC State played with passion, confidence and an edge. Ryan Williamson, in an effort that will certainly benefit the Wolfpack against Florida State, hurled a career-best seven innings to spare the bullpen of unnecessary work. If State can win the title, Williamson will then join the long list of players on the team who fought selflessly for a greater cause.
At the end of the day, win or lose, that is probably what this team will be remembered for. It shrugged off not only the mid-season slump but the underachievement of last year. The Pack knew better days were coming, did not back down from anyone or anything and had each other’s back throughout.
NC State is competing for an ACC title on Sunday but, in truth, the Wolfpack brought honor on itself long before.