After dropping the final game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament Fort Worth Regional in excruciating fashion , NC State’s baseball team enters the 2016 season recharged and determined for tournament success.
“It’s hard to get to where we were last year,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “It doesn’t make you hungrier, but it makes you appreciate when you get to certain places. You learn from the past, and hopefully it makes you better.”
Avent enters his 20th season with the Wolfpack, who will begin the season ranked 20th in the nation. He has amassed a 681-421 record as skipper, including eight seasons with 40 or more wins and a 50-win campaign in 2013 when NC State reached the College World Series and broke a 45-year streak without a trip to Omaha.
“It feels almost the same as my first year,” Avent said. “For me, the love for this school doesn’t change. I just feel like every year gets a little better.”
Andrew Knizner returns as one of the team’s primary offensive catalysts. After transitioning from third base to catcher, the Glen Allen, Va. native finished 2015 with a .317 batting average, five home runs, 42 RBI, and 32 runs scored.
With the graduation of Logan Ratledge, the Wolfpack will turn to sophomore Joe Dunand to fill the gap at shortstop in 2016. Dunand, the nephew of New York Yankees’ designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, tied for the second-most home runs on the team last season with seven and posted a .219 average with 40 runs driven in.
Another pivotal component of NC State’s offense with Major League ties is Preston Palmeiro. The son of Rafael Palmeiro, Preston also slugged seven four-baggers and hit .305 with a team-high 49 RBI in 2015. Palmeiro is the only returning player that started every game for the Pack last season.
“[Dunand and Palmeiro] grew up in a locker room at a high level,” Avent said. “Being around the kind of people they’ve been around their whole lives, they’ve been able to slow the game down. They understand the game, respect the game, and appreciate the game, its joys and its difficulties.”
The Wolfpack will send Johnny Piedmonte, Brian Brown, and Joe O’Donnell to the mound for the opening weekend matchups against Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, and Kent State respectively.
In his first full season after missing his first three due to Tommy John surgery, Piedmonte appeared in 15 games, with 12 appearances as a starter, and posted a 1-2 record with an earned run average of 3.26. Though only hurling 49.2 innings, the Davidson native struck out 40 batters while issuing 14 walks.
“Johnny Piedmonte is a tremendous person and a tremendous story,” Avent said. “He’s one of the finest people to ever put on an NC State uniform. He represents us so well. He’s one of those stalwarts. When you think about locker room makeup, a lot of times you go to position players. You can start in our locker room with Johnny Piedmonte.”
Named as a member of the 2015 All-ACC Freshman Team, Brown started 15 games and notched a 7-3 mark with an ERA of 2.03. Brown finished second on the team in strikeouts with 78 and led the team in innings pitched with 79.2.
O’Donnell spent the entirety of 2015 as a relief pitcher, making 25 appearances. He also finished a 7-3 record last season, including a sterling 2.08 ERA. O’Donnell recorded 54 Ks with only 20 walks.
“He had success as a reliever last year for us and threw in some big situations,” NC State pitching coach Scott Foxhall said. “He’s a sinker-ball, ground ball pitcher, which plays well especially when we have a solid defense in the infield behind him.”
NC State begins the 2016 season Friday afternoon at TicketReturn.Com Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina against Old Dominion. First pitch is slated for noon and the game can be heard on 88.1 WKNC.
“Everyday you have an opportunity to win, and everyday you have an opportunity to get beaten,” Avent said. “It’s a long journey, but this is a team I’m happy to be playing with.”