Different Approaches

Stetson and NC State rode different waves into the postseason. #2 Stetson relied heavily on its offensive firepower to get here while the #3 Wolfpack has been backed by their defensive prowess all season. Today, the two clash in the opening game of the NCAA Columbia Regional. First pitch is set for 1:00 p.m.

NC State head coach Elliot Avent intends to dance with who brought him here. It was the defense that flushed a mixture of growing pains and uncertainty on the mound at the start of the season in Raleigh.

Avent considers his scrappy defense the cornerstone of the program and credits them largely for the Pack's hot streak down the stretch.

"Our defense has been outstanding all year, especially the last half," Avent said. "It's been as good as you can be. We've made the right plays at the right time and did really smart things with the baseball.

NC State (34-25) tied a school-record this season for its overall fielding percentage of .976.

The Pack have committed just one error in their last eight games, including a tough outing at the ACC Tournament. NC State upset Florida State (#5 National Seed) in the first game of the round-robin tournament before dropping consecutive games to Georgia Tech and Clemson (Regional hosts).

The lost to the Yellow Jackets last week snapped a five-game winning streak for NC State. The Wolfpack opened the season losing three of its first five ACC series but quickly recovered with an impressive sweep of UNC (#3 National Seed) at home in April.

"It's what has carried us through the times when our offense and our pitching struggled a little bit," Avent said of his defense. "It's what has kept this team together."

The Pack will need more of that to get past a pesky Stetson club and advance deep in the Columbia regional this weekend.

NC State chose to save its junior righthander Cory Mazzoni (5-6, 3.38) for Saturday and send sophomore righthander Ethan Ogburn (6-4, 4.06) to the mound against the Hatters today.

Avent's gamble to hold his ace Mazzoni puts a lot of pressure on Ogburn and the bullpen against a Stetson team that will come out swinging.

Stetson (41-18) is a darkhorse in the Columbia regional simply because its bats alone. Its solid lineup put the Hatters of Deland, Florida on the radar early in the season.

The Hatters are currently batting .297, led by its All-American catcher Nick Rickles. Rickles, who was named to the Louisville All-American third team Wednesday, is batting a team-high .353 with 20 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 60 RBIs. The junior has struck out only eight times this season.

Ben Carhart compliments Rickles well at the plate. Carhart is batting .328 with seven home runs and a team-high 62 RBIs for the Hatters. Stetson has three other starters hitting above .300. Collectively, Stetson hit 29 home runs so far this season.

Stetson's run this season has been nothing short of impressive. At two different points in the season, the Hatters have went on eight and nine game winning streaks. They rolled to an at-large bid by winning the Altantic Sun Conference regular-season championship. This is Stetson's first trip to the NCAA postseason since 2007.

Where NC State has gotten hot at the right time, Stetson has somewhat faded lately. The Hatters have lost six of their last eight, including a home conference series loss to Belmont to finish the regular season.

"We scuffled the last 15 games," said Stetson head coach Pete Dunn. "We were beat up. "A lot of our scuffling was trying to adjust our pitching staff."

The Hatters suffered a blow on the mound when it lost Kurt Schluter to injury over five weeks ago. Schluter was 8-0 with 1.40 ERA and had one of the nation's longest win streaks at nine before going down.

Although Stetson and NC State have been going in opposite directions lately, one thing remains the same. Neither wants to get pushed the loser's bracket on Day 1 of the NCAA Columbia Regional.

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