Surging Pack Ready for Tournament

Winners of its last two regular season series, the suddenly hot Wolfpack look to grab their first ACC Tournament title since 1992. The Pack faces Virginia this morning at 10am in the tournament's opening game.

Two weeks ago, NC State was in danger of falling out of the ACC Tournament pool.

But after series wins against two of the top teams in the nation, Virgina and Clemson, the Wolfpack assured itself a spot in Jacksonville. In the span of two weekends, the Pack has gone from tournament afterthought to one of the most dangerous clubs in the eight-team field.

"We are a tough team – I wouldn't want to play us right now," coach Elliot Avent said.

Right fielder Ryan Pond said the difference for the Pack over the last few weeks has been the offense. Following an abysmal performance at Georgia Tech in late April, where the Pack scored just seven runs over three games en route to being swept, the bats have come alive for the Wolfpack. The Pack is averaging nearly seven runs a game since returning from Atlanta.

"The pitching has been there all year but we've started swinging a little bit," right fielder Ryan Pond said. "We are starting to pull things together – we're playing really good baseball right now. We've got a shot to beat anybody."

Catcher Caleb Mangum, who earlier this week was named second-team All-ACC, also believes the Wolfpack is primed for a tournament run.

"We've seen everybody in the ACC now we can compete with anybody – we can beat anybody. We played right with the top teams – we took two of three from Virginia, we beat Carolina pretty good and Florida State pretty good."

Under the new tournament format, the No. 6 seeded Wolfpack already knows its schedule through Saturday. The Pack plays No. 3 Virginia today at 10am, faces No. 2 seed North Carolina on Thursday, then plays No. 7 Georgia Tech on Saturday. Clayton Shunick (5-2, 5.44 ERA) will take the ball for the Pack today, followed by Eric Surkamp (4-3, 2.94) on Thursday and Andrew Brackman (6-4, 3.81) on Friday.

If they win the four-team bracket, they'll move on to play in the championship game on Sunday. The new format is designed to alleviate some of the stress the old tournament put on team's pitching staffs – where a team would often wear out its pitching by playing four or five games just to reach the championship.

"You know you have three games," Pond said. "If you lose a game you don't have to go into a loser's bracket and burn all your pitching. It let's you set your rotation, use less bullpen – it gives you a chance in the finals because you'll have some pitching left."

Last season the Wolfpack made it all the way to Sunday's championship game, playing four games in four days including a double-header with Florida State on Saturday to reach the finals. The Pack would lose the championship game, falling 8-4 to Clemson.

"We've played for the ACC Championship three times in my 11 years here, and it's a dogfight to get there," Avent said. "When you get there, you're spent. I think it takes a lot out of you, the new format is going to help all the clubs."

The Pack enters play today looking for its first tournament championship since 1992. State has won four tournaments in all, tied with Florida State and North Carolina for third-most in the league. Regardless of the format, the Wolfpack's recent surge has players feeling confident about their postseason chances.

"The key is just getting hot," closer Eryk McConnell said. "Last year Miami wasn't that great a team but they got hot at the end of the season and made it all the way to the World Series. It's all about how you finish."

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