First, however, NC State will have to take care of third-seeded Creighton (46-15) in what will be a home-away-from-home game for the Blue Jays, whose home field in Omaha is only about two hours to the east. The game will start at 8:05 p.m. (EDT) on Friday, and will be broadcast live on WKNC-FM (88.1) and on gopack.com.
If the Pack defeats Creighton, it will play again at 8:05 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday against the winner of the opening-round game between Nebraska and fourth-seeded Illinois-Chicago (38-19-1). If the Pack loses on Friday, it will face the Creighton-UIC loser at 2:05 p.m.
THE STARTING PITCHERS: Sophomore righthander Gib Hobson (6-3, 5.11) will start for the Wolfpack in the regional opener vs. Creighton. Hobson has made 16 appearances, all starts, and has worked a staff-high 81 innings. He has allowed 56 runs, 46 of them earned, on 86 hits. He has walked 28 and struck out 56 while holding opponents to a .274 average. In his last start, May 26 vs. Virginia in the second round of the ACC Tournament, Hobson did not have his normal command and took a 12-2 loss. He lasted just 1 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs, six earned, on six hits. He walked three and struck out one. Prior to that start, Hobson had strung together solid outings in consecutive starts against North Carolina, Duke and Florida State in the last three regular-season series of the year. In those three games, he worked 20 1/3 innings and allowed just six runs, five of them earned, on 17 hits while walking six and striking out 16. Earlier this season, on March 12, Hobson threw NC State's first no-hitter in 12 years when he shut down Maryland 11-1. The lone Terrapin run scored as a result of walks and an error.
Freshman righthander Andrew Brackman (4-0, 1.38) will start the second game for the Wolfpack. Brackman has made nine total appearances, including six starts. In 39 innings, he has allowed eight runs, six of them earned, on 25 hits. He has walked 16, struck out 39, and held opposing hitters to a .191 average. In his last outing, May 25 against Miami in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, Brackman pitched a gem against the eighth-ranked Hurricanes. Facing one of the top offenses in all of college baseball, Brackman allowed just one run on six hits in seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. In his last four starts (East Carolina, Duke, Florida State and Miami), he has allowed two runs on 12 hits in 19 innings, walking eight and striking out 13. He has been a part of two combined shutouts, both at East Carolina (the No. 3 seed this weekend at Arizona State).
NC STATE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: This is NC State's third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, its sixth in nine seasons under head coach Elliott Avent, and its 15th since 1986. Overall, this is the Wolfpack's 19th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1968. The Wolfpack has a 27-37 record in NCAA Tournament games, including an 8-10 mark since Avent took over in 1997.
NC STATE PLAYERS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: NC State has played eight NCAA Tournament games the last two years, and several Wolfpack players have extensive experience in postseason play, including four players who will be playing in their third NCAA Tournament this weekend at Lincoln. Junior center fielder Matt Camp has batted .324 (12-for-37) with two doubles, four walks and a pair of stolen bases in eight postseason games the past two years. Senior outfielder Lee Mezistrano also is making his third postseason appearance and carries a .357 (5-for-14) average in NCAA Tournament play. On the mound, junior righthander Joey Devine appeared in four games as a reliever in 2003, picking up a win, a loss and a save to go with a 2.70 ERA. Devine's lone appearance in the postseason a year ago was as a starter against Florida Atlantic in the Coral Gables Regional. He allowed six earned runs in three innings. Senior righthander Phillip Davidson appeared in one game apiece in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, and allowed two runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings for a 2.70 postseason ERA.
NC STATE VS. THE 64-TEAM FIELD: NC State played 25 games this season against teams in the 64-team 2005 NCAA Tournament field, compiling a 13-12 record in those 25 games. All but five of the Wolfpack's losses (Campbell, Maryland, Duke, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest) this season were to teams in the NCAA Tournament field, and the loss to Campbell in the second game of the season was the Pack's only non-conference loss to a team not in the field. NC State finished 3-1 vs. East Carolina (No. 3 seed at Tempe), 2-1 vs. Florida State (No. 1 at Tallahassee), 2-2 vs. Virginia (No. 2 at Corvalis), 2-2 vs. Clemson (No. 1 at Clemson), 0-3 vs. Georgia Tech (No. 1 at Atlanta), 2-1 vs. North Carolina (No. 2 at Gainesville), and 2-2 vs. Miami (No. 1 at Coral Gables). NC State was 6-8 vs. No. 1 seeds, 4-3 vs. No. 2 seeds, and 3-1 vs. No. 3 seeds.
NC STATE VS. THE LINCOLN REGIONAL FIELD: NC State has never played Nebraska, Creighton or Illinois-Chicago in baseball.
ALL-ACC: For the third year in a row, NC State placed three players on the Atlantic Coast Conference's first-team all-conference squad. Junior reliever Joey Devine was named first-team All-ACC for the third year in a row, making him the sixth NC State player ever to earn first-team honors three times, and the first reliever in conference history to make first-team all-conference three times. Joining Devine on the first team were junior catcher Jake Muyco and sophomore first baseman Aaron Bates. Freshman second baseman Ramon Corona was named second-team All-ACC.
APPEARANCES LEADER: Junior reliever Joey Devine broke NC State's record for career saves more than a year ago. He added another career record, this one for appearances by a pitcher, to his bio on May 21 when he pitched the ninth inning against Florida State. The game was Devine's 84th career appearance, breaking the old record of 83 set by Daniel Caldwell from 2000-04. Devine heads into play in the NCAA Lincoln Regional with 85 career appearances.
MOST ACC WINS: NC State's 17-13 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference set a new school record for ACC wins in a season, breaking the old record of 15, first set in 1992 and equalled in 1993, 1997 and 2003.
SINCE THE SWEEP: NC State hopes to continue its strong and remarkably consistent season this weekend at the NCAA Lincoln Regional. While the Wolfpack has not won more than six games in a row all season, it has had just two losing streaks all year, a three-game sweep at Georgia Tech from March 18-20 and the final two games of the ACC Tournament last weekend.
NC State's season hit its low point with the three-game sweep at the hands of the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta, but the genesis of the team's turnaround came the very next weekend. Trailing Lehigh 9-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Wolfpack erupted for seven runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth to stun the Mountain Hawks 10-9, the game-winner coming on Ramon Corona's pinch-hit two-run walk-off double.
Since then, the Wolfpack has been consistently excellent, going 25-9, losing back-to-back games only once and winning eight consecutive weekend series, seven of them ACC series. Aaron Bates has batted .447 with nine doubles, nine home runs and 39 RBIs since the Georgia Tech series, and Corona has hit .368 with nine doubles, two homers and 23 RBIs. Others have hit consistently since then as well, including Ryan Pond (.337), Aaron Cone (.345) and Lee Mezistrano (.333).
The pitching staff has been equally impressive, compiling a 3.87 staff ERA since the sweep in Atlanta. Starters Jeff Stallings (2-1, 0.93) and Andrew Brackman (4-0, 1.38) have anchored the bullpen, while Jason Duncan (5-0, 0.50) and Joey Devine (3-2, 1.88, 9 saves) have combined to shorten most games to six innings. Phillip Davidson (5-0, 4.12) has bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen and made a strong contribution as both a starter and middle reliever.
EXTRA BASES: Florida State reliever Tyler Chambliss came to Raleigh with the Seminoles the last weekend of the regular season leading the ACC in saves with 14 and possessing some eye-opening numbers, the most remarkable being no extra-base hits allowed all season in 40 2/3 innings pitched.
NC State took care of that one by hitting home runs off Chambliss on consecutive pitches in a doubleheader May 21. Aaron Bates hit a three-run walk-off blast in the conclusion of a suspended game from the night before, ending the game and Chambliss's streak all in one swing. In the regularly scheduled game, Chambliss came in to pitch the eighth inning with the Noles trailing 7-3, and Ramon Corona hit his first pitch over the wall in left for a solo blast. The Wolfpack won both games, 7-4 and 8-3.
MIDWEEK STREAK: With the Wolfpack's 11-4 victory over Campbell on May 17, NC State concluded its schedule of midweek non-conference games with a perfect 12-0 record. The Wolfpack lost only two non-conference games this season, both of them as part of weekend series.
NC State has gone though an entire season with no midweek losses just one other time -- 1994 -- since the Atlantic Coast Conference went to its current format of three-game conference series each weekend.
FIVE GAMES AHEAD: Despite losing two All-America pitchers and the team's three leading home run hitters from a year ago, NC State is five games ahead of the pace the 2004 squad set through 57 games. The Wolfpack was 35-22 at this point in '04.
Comparing this year's 40-17 record to previous Wolfpack teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the 2005 club is two games behind the 2003 team through 57 games, five games ahead of 1999, three games ahead of 1998, tied with 1997, one game behind 1996, two and a half games behind 1994, five games behind 1993, four games behind 1992, one game behind 1991, two games behind 1990, four games behind 1988, and four games behind 1987. The 1986 team's season was only 50 games.
SHUTOUTS: With six shutouts in the season's first 57 games, NC State is just one shutout shy of the school record of seven, set in 1978 (39 games). The last time the Pack threw six shutouts in a season was in 1992.
NC State's back-to-back shutouts of Virginia on April 9-10 marked the first time the Wolfpack threw back-to-back shutouts since May 15, 2004, when All-America righthanders Mike Rogers and Vern Sterry tossed complete-game shutouts vs. No. 1 Texas in both ends of a doubleheader at Austin's Disch-Faulk Field.
Branden Knapp's shutout of the Cavaliers on April 10 marked the first time in 2005 that an ACC pitcher threw a complete-game shutout in a conference game. Knapp was named ACC Pitcher of the Week.
LOSING STREAKS: NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent preaches to his team about keeping losing streaks to a maximum of three games. This year's team has taken Avent's words to heart. Through the 54-game regular season, the 2005 Wolfpack had just one losing streak, a three-game sweep March 18-20 at the hands of a Georgia Tech team that was in the process of winning a mind-numbing 25 conference games in a row. The Wolfpack's second losing streak of the season did not come until last week in the ACC Tournament, when NC State lost to Virginia and Clemson in consecutive games.
Aside from those two streaks, NC State has not lost back-to-back games all season, a remarkable accomplishment. How remarkable? No previous NC State team ever played this deep into a season without at least three losing streaks. The 1993 team came the closest, playing 46 games before losing back-to-back games for the first time. That team did not have its second losing streak until games 49-50 and finished with three losing streaks of two games apiece.
In the last 35 years, only the 1975 Wolfpack has gone through an entire season without losing back-to-back games. That team played 34 games. The 1988 team has just three losing streaks in 61 games, and the 1986 team had just two in 50 games. The 1984 squad had just one losing streak in 40 games.
SAVES LEADER: With 12 saves in 14 opportunities in 2005, Wolfpack closer Joey Devine has passed former Clemson hurler Scott Winchester and taken sole possession of third place in conference history with 36 career saves. Former Wake Forest ace and current Toronto Blue Jays starter David Bush ranks second in ACC history with 38 saves, four behind Thad Chrismon, who saved 41 games for North Carolina from 1992-95.
With 12 saves this season, Devine is the only pitcher in NC State history to record 10 saves in a season three times, and has joined Winchester and Chrismon as the only pitchers in conference history to record 10 or more saves in a season in three different seasons.
Devine became NC State's career saves leader March 13, 2004, in a 5-4 win over Northeastern.
MORE Joey Devine: So far in 2005, junior reliever Joey Devine has been money in the bank for NC State. Devine has made 26 appearances this season, 18 of them scoreless, and 14 of his 16 one-inning appearances have been scoreless. In 44 innings, he has walked seven (two intentionally) and struck out a staff-high 67. For his career, Devine has allowed 110 hits and struck out 201 in 145 1/3 innings.
Prior to walking UNC's Matt Ellington on April 29, Devine had faced 79 consecutive hitters without issuing a walk. His walk of Reid Fronk on April 30 ended a streak of 95 consecutive batters faced without an unintentional walk.
DUNCAN ALL ACES AS SET-UP MAN: Junior lefthander Jason Duncan has emerged as a legitimate stopper in the middle and late innings for NC State. Duncan, who has allowed just two earned runs in his last 35 2/3 innings, had a streak of 20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings snapped April 30 vs. North Carolina. During the scoreless innings streak, he allowed 10 hits, walked five and struck out 27.
Duncan has held opposing hitters to a .180 batting average and is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA for the season, but take away a four-batter disaster (4 ER, 0 IP) March 20 at Georgia Tech and his ERA is 1.24 over 43 2/3 innings.
B-RACK MOWS 'EM DOWN: No one wanted to believe Andrew Brackman during basketball season when he said that he had always been a better baseball player than a basketball player. Six starts and nine appearances into his college baseball career, people are beginning to understand what he was talking about.
Brackman has made nine appearances thus far, but he has been at his best in his six starts. Not counting a rain-shortened start May 20 against Florida State, Brackman has gone 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in five starts.
Choosing Brackman's most impressive start is almost impossible since all five (not counting the abridged start against the Seminoles) have been terrific:
The game that put Brackman on the national radar screen was the North Carolina game, April 29 at Doak Field. Brackman tossed seven innings and dominated the then-seventh-ranked Tar Heels. Although he allowed three runs in seven innings, one run was set up by a wild pitch on a strikeout, a sacrifice bunt and a seeing-eye ground ball that rolled through the right side of the infield for a single. Another run was the result of a double, a groundout and a sacrifice fly. The third run scored on a bunt single, a balk, a wild pitch and a groundout. The Tar Heels did not exactly light him up, and the double was the only hard-hit ball he allowed all evening.
When the final box score came out, Brackman had limited the hard-hitting Tar Heels to four hits in seven innings while striking out 12 and walking just two. The 12 punchouts were the most by an NC State pitcher since March 5, 2004, when Michael Rogers fanned 12 at San Diego State. The last time a Wolfpack pitcher recorded more than a dozen strikeouts in a game was March 16, 2003, when Vern Sterry struck out 14 vs. Princeton. Brackman's 12 K's were the most by an NC State freshman since April 26, 1987, when Preston Woods fanned 13 in a 6-1 loss to Georgia Tech.
The Miami game further solidified Brackman's reputation. With several major league general managers and scouting directors in attendance to watch Miami starter Cesar Carillo and Wolfpack reliever Joey Devine, Brackman stifled the 10th-ranked offense in the nation, limiting the Hurricanes to a run on six hits in seven innings of work. He did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, and preserved a 2-1 lead by pitching out of major jams in the sixth and seventh innings. With runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, he retired Jon Jay on a pop-up and Danny Valencia on a soft line drive to shortstop. With the bases loaded and two out in the seventh, Brackman got Danny Figueroa on a grounder to shortstop. Devine blew through the last six Hurricanes batters to nail down the 2-1 victory, NC State's first postseason win ever against Miami.
STRIKEOUT RECORD: When Andrew Brackman, Jason Duncan and Joey Devine combined to strike out 18 vs. North Carolina on April 29, it set a new NC State record for strikeouts in an ACC game. The Wolfpack struck out 17 in 10 2/3 innings vs. Florida State on April 3, 2004, in a 7-6 loss in Tallahassee.
The 18 K's also marked the most strikeouts by the Wolfpack since February 20, 1993, when Shawn Senior struck out 19 in a complete-game 10-0 win over Howard.
THE BIG THREE: The names Brackman, Duncan and Devine almost sound like a law firm, and in three games of pitching as a trio, righthanders Andrew Brackman, Jason Duncan and Joey Devine have laid down the law to a pair of tough in-state opponents. In three games against East Carolina (twice) and North Carolina, Brackman, Duncan and Devine have allowed just three earned runs on 14 hits in 27 innings, walking 10 and striking out 36.
On April 20 at East Carolina, Brackman, Duncan and Devine combined to pitch a two-hit shutout against the Pirates. Brackman, in his first college start, worked the first six innings, allowing both hits and walking three while striking out five. Duncan pitched the seventh and eighth innings, and retired all six men he faced. Devine pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out the side. The combination of Brackman, Duncan and Devine retired the last 15 East Carolina batters they faced, and 17 of the last 18.
The Wolfpack's big three teamed up once again on April 29 against then-seventh-ranked North Carolina in the first game of a three-game ACC series. The result this time was not a shutout, but the Wolfpack prevailed 6-5 and set a school record for strikeouts in an ACC game with 18. Brackman pitched the first seven innings and allowed three runs on four hits. He walked two and struck out 12. The three runs were the result of a wild pitch on a strikeout; a double, a groundout and a sacrifice fly; and a bunt single, a balk, a wild pitch and a groundout. Duncan faced three hitters, walking one and striking out two. Devine got the final four outs, all on strikeouts, although he was tagged with a blown save thanks to a pair of unearned runs in the ninth. He got the win thanks to his brother Matt's walk-off RBI-single in the bottom of the ninth.
Brackman, Duncan and Devine worked as a threesome again May 10 at East Carolina, beating the Pirates 3-0 on a combined five-hitter. Brackman (5 innings) and Duncan (3 innings) allowed two hits apiece, while Devine notched his 10th save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning.
BATES IS BASHING: Sophomore first baseman Aaron Bates has swung a hot bat all season, but he has really turned the offense up a notch over the last few weeks. In 24 games since April 9, Bates is hitting .482 (41-for-85) with eight doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs. Bates leads the Wolfpack in batting (.420), runs scored (60), doubles (16), home runs (12), RBIs (62), total bases (138), slugging percentage (.690) and on-base percentage (.522).
With 84 hits in 200 at-bats, Bates will have to go hitless in his next 11 at-bats before his batting average would fall below the .400 mark. He is vying to become the 10th NC State player ever to bat .400 or better in a season. The school record for single-season batting average is .429 by Chris Cammack in 1969.