It's Regionals week here at Frogs O'War, and as part of our due diligence, we are previewing each team in the Fort Worth bracket. Next up? The #2 seed NC State Wolfpack.
WHO: North Carolina State
WHERE: Raleigh, North Carolina (full-disclosure - this is my second favorite region in America, behind DFW)
WAIT, WHO?: The Wolfpack plays in a little baseball conference you may have heard of - the ACC. Home to six of the top 30 in RPI and seven teams playing in the postseason tournament, the Atlantic Coast Conference is arguably the best in baseball this year. National Seeds Miami and Louisville could be playing deep in to the summer, and FSU is widely considered to have been snubbed from the top 8. So yeah, they're good.
TELL ME ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE RALEIGH SO MUCH: Part of the famed "Research Triangle", Raleigh-Durham is home to Duke, North Carolina, and NC State - three top universities. It's also home to the best chicken and waffles I have ever eaten, at Dame's Chicken and Waffles. I want to go to there. Also excellent? They have these things called seasons, which I think is this phenomenon where the weather changes to line up with the time of year. Weird, right?
ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUT NC STATE THE SCHOOL?: NC State has 25,000 undergrads and over 150,000 living alumni. Best known for not being UNC or Duke, State is actually a really good school in it's own right. With an excellent reputation as a research school, and top ten rankings in Nuclear Engineering and Biological and Agricultural Engineering, it's not your typical state school. They also sport the #3 Veterinarian School in the country an have been called the best value in public universities by The Princeton Review.
FAMOUS ALUMNI: The Wolfpack's most famous alum is San Diego Charger's QB and highly fertile man Philip Rivers, who TCU fans will recognize as that guy that handed LT the ball for a couple years. Former presidential candidate and philanderer John Edwards is also a graduate - along with a bunch of other well-known political types. Zach Galifianakis briefly attended the school, entertainer John Tesh was expelled as a junior, and American Idol Scotty McCreery currently studies there. They also sport a laundry list of former and current pro athletes, including Russell Wilson (though he is more known for his exploits as a Badger), Bill Cowher, Nate McMillan, and my personal favorite - former Sacramento King and tiny dunk master Spud Webb.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: After surviving the gauntlet that is the AAC, the Wolfpack has certainly earned their spot in the dance, thought they struggled against the top teams in the conference during the regular season and didn't do much in the preseason of note. State went 9-11 verses teams that will play in the field of 64, though they did beat National Seed Miami as well as the post-season Notre Dame and Virginia in the ACC Tournament before falling to Florida State in the championship game.
WHO YA GOT, PACK?: NC State's best pitcher is freshman Brian Brown, who has been outstanding on the mound this year, with a 1.72 ERA over 73.1 innings, leading to a 7-3 record. He will likely face off against the game two winner on Saturday. Joe O'Donnell and and Curt Britt also sport sub 2.5 ERAs, and reliever Tommy DeJuneas leads the bullpen with six saves - though he has been saddled with three losses on the season as well. This is a solid staff top to bottom, with three guys who have started double-digit games and nine pitchers who have struck out at least 35 opposing hitters. Additionally, teams hit only .212 against them, but they do struggle with control, and walk a bunch of batters. A patient team can certainly work the count and make them pay with free bases.
Offensively, the Pack has four players batting over .300 on the year, senior Logan Ratledge and sophomore first baseman Preston Palmeiro (he's from Colleyville, and yes, former Ranger Rafael Palmeiro is his dad) have started every game for NC State, and lead the team with eight and seven long balls respectively. Freshman infielder Joe Dunand doesn't have a great average, battling only .230, but he can mash it as well - he has seven homers and 12 doubles on the year. Relief pitcher DeJuneas is also a valuable bat off the bench - he's batted .265 in limited appearances, but does have a homerun and has been HBP five times in 34 at bats.
The Pack are a good, if not great defensive team, with a .970 fielding percentage. Palmeiro has a great glove at first, with a .992 success rate. The weakness defensively seems to come primarily from the mound, where the pitching staff struggles with making plays on balls hit back to them - something that might play well in to TCU's hands should they face them this weekend. Also, as noted by Backing the Pack in Marshall's convo with them, they play a natural second baseman at shortstop, and his arm has let him down in a few crucial occasions this year.
WHATCHA GONNA DO?: NC State is a potentially very dangerous team - they swing for the fences nearly every at bat, making for a high risk, high reward kind of offense. When we last saw TCU pitchers, they were spending a significant time looking at outfield fences, as Tech and Baylor repeatedly smacked pitches over them. If you make those mistakes to the Wolfpack players, they will make you pay with power as well. It's hard to imagine the Pack not playing for a Super Regional berth - they shouldn't have too many problems with Stony Brook, setting up a potentially very fun Saturday tilt with the Frogs. I think TCU matches up well with with them, but this is a team that can do a lot of damage from the plate and has a solid pitching staff that has shown the ability to shut down good bats with the game on the line. And being just two years removed from their own CWS trip, they have experience and won't be afraid of the moment. Their strength could stretch this series all the way to Monday, conceivably, but the question will be - do they have the depth to get through a long weekend?