REGIONAL NOTES: Shepard looks to lead Pack

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Raleigh Regional is underway and here are some notes on No. 1 seed NC State and opening opponent No. 4 seed Navy heading into tonight's matchup.

For Chance Shepard, there is nothing quite like the feeling he gets when he crushes a pitch over the wall for homer. Perhaps the only thing better is smashing a long ball late in the contest when the game is on the line.

The senior slugger has 13 home runs this season but has a knack for hitting long balls late.

After going homerless in league play, Shepard hit a two over the wall, homering in back-to-back games, at the ACC Baseball Championship in Durham—including a two-run blast in the eighth inning of NC State’s loss to Miami.

Shepard is also no stranger to late-inning heroics in the NCAA Tournament. His two-out, ninth inning homer handed the Wolfpack a, 5-4, victory over TCU in regional play last season.

"Those are always the most fun ones,” Shepard said of hitting late homers to win a game. “You have to relax. You can change the game for your team. You can't get too excited about it. You have to relax, calm down and know you're prepared to do what you're supposed to do."

NC State ultimately came up short against the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, Texas last season. Shepard was on the team in 2013 but was not on the postseason roster when the Wolfpack reached the College World Series.

To help his team return to Omaha would mean the world to Shepard.

“I didn’t get to go to Omaha as a freshman,” Shepard said. “I am so jealous of those guys that got to go. We are doing everything we can as a team. That was our goal from the get-go and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there.”

Avent announced on Thursday that sophomore left-hander Brian Brown would start Friday versus Navy in NC State’s regional opener.

Brown enters the contest 7-3 on the season and sports a 3.74 ERA. He took a no decision in his last outing versus Georgia Tech at the ACC Baseball Championship in Durham.

It will mark the second NCAA Tournament appearance for Brown. Last season he pitched six and a third innings in NC State’s win over TCU in Fort Worth. The lefty gave up four runs on five hits.

NC State is hosting a Regional for the third time in five seasons. The Wolfpack has previously hosted four times (2003, 2008, 2012 and 2013).

In the previous four regionals where NC State has been the host team, the Wolfpack has advanced to the Super Regional each time and the program sports a 13-1 record in those games—including a 10-1 mark at Doak Field at Dail Park (the 2003 Regional was played in Wilson).

NC State’s lone loss came in 2012 versus Vanderbilt. The Wolfpack would go on to defeat the Commodores twice to advance its third Super Regional in school history, capped by, 9-7, win in the championship game keyed by Tarran Senay’s five RBIs.  

By now most Wolfpack fans know about the recent showdown NC State head coach Elliott Avent and his dog had with a copperhead snake.

At the NCAA Tournament press conference Thursday, Avent was wearing a walking boot as he had re-injured himself climbing stairs while his ankle was still in a weakened condition.

After the press conference, Avent visited the doctor and said that it appears the tendon in his ankle is either stretched or torn and that surgery after the season may be required.

Avent said he should not, however, miss any games for the remainder of the season.

The Wolfpack begin its quest for the 2016 College World Series Friday in Raleigh against Navy and the toughness of Avent has got the Midshipmen’s attention.

“I don’t know why he puts himself in those positions,” Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos quipped while speaking to the media Thursday. “I wouldn’t do that. That is for sure.”

Typically a school making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 may have some nerves entering its first game of the Regional. At the Naval Academy, its students go through training that puts baseball in perspective.

“I have got five seniors on the team that in two or three weeks will go out and really do some incredible things,” Kostacopoulos said. “We have got Marines that are going to go out and fight for us. We are going to put guys out in a 25 million dollar plane they have to fly. I don’t think pressure is going to be a problem. It is more execution that we want to focus on.”

Luke Gillingham, who will start on the mound for Navy against NC State Friday and is 8-3 this season with a 1.96 ERA, echoed his head coach’s sentiments.

“Since the moment we have stepped on campus we have had pressure on us,” the lefty said. “Our first day is called ‘I-Day.’ It is a pressure-filled day. It kicks off your experience at the Naval Academy.

“Coming here, when we showed up at the park—granted this is a real stadium, real park, real regional experience for us—you could tell that we all pretty quickly got to work. We are ready to go.”

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