Friday kicks off postseason college baseball. And what better way to kick it off than ignite yet another new friendship with SBNation's NC State blog, 'Backing the Pack'. The Wolfpack had a tremendous finish, and if things go as most expect them to, TCU and NCState should meet Saturday night in the winner's bracket.
First off, thanks for doing this. In any way you want, explain to us how NC State got to where they are.
It's been a weird season--a month ago it didn't look like NC State was going to make the NCAA tournament, and we couldn't be sure they were going finish with a winning record, either. The Wolfpack would get close to some breakthroughs here and there, it's just that the breaks were eluding them. This team lost its first eight one-run games. You almost have to try to do that.
They finished the season 13-3, winning a handful of one-run games in the process, making themselves into a team people are talking about as a possible sleeper in the tournament. See, weird.
What were y’all’s most impressive wins?
NC State has a win over each of the ACC's regional hosts--FSU, Miami, and Louisville--though the Pack lost regular season series to all of 'em. In the non-conference, NC State has wins over East Carolina and Florida Atlantic.
Your pitching is pretty dynamite. Who should Frog fans watch out for, whether bullpen or rotation, this weekend--especially if the Wolfpack and Frogs end up playing each other?
That is the big question. In this position, as a two-seed and on the road, head coach Elliott Avent has been willing to save his best starter for Saturday, so that's a definite possibility. It's never worked for the Pack in the past, but hey.
If he goes that route, it means he'll be saving freshman Brian Brown (73.3 IP / 70 K / 26 BB) for what he hopes will be a winner's bracket game. I'd bet on that being Avent's strategy. Brown is coming off a fantastic start in the ACC tournament, and has the lowest ERA among State's starters at 1.72.
TCU could also run into Cory Wilder (58.3 IP / 72 K / 54 BB), who has done a tremendous job living up to his name. There is some good stuff throughout this staff, and also some guys who at times will have no idea where the ball is going. Wilder's the best example.
Out of the pen, Tommy DeJuneas (39.7 IP / 57 K / 24 BB), Curt Britt (50 IP / 50 K / 18 BB), Joe O'Donnell (52 IP / 54 K / 19 BB), Jon Olczak (40.7 IP / 44 K / 26 BB), and Will Gilbert (41.3 IP / 46 K / 18 BB) have been important contributors. Britt or O'Donnell could be used as spot starters.
We know the pitching is great, what are other areas of value?
The offense has improved over last season thanks to big years from shortstop Logan Ratledge (.330/.433/.549) and first baseman Preston Palmeiro (.316/.393/.471), plus the ever-steady contributions from catcher Andrew Knizner (.322/.362/.439). There is decent pop throughout the lineup, though also a few holes that TCU can exploit.
NC State's pitching staff averages 4.6 walks per nine innings; the lack of control has gotten the team into trouble and cost it some games it probably should have won. Patient hitters can definitely work some good counts against these guys.
The infield defense can be a liability. Ratledge is a second baseman--with a second baseman's arm--playing short, and that shows sometimes.
The lineup is strikeout-heavy, so as quickly as they hit their way into a scoring threat, they can whiff their way out of it. There's like a half dozen dudes who have fanned on a quarter or a third of their plate appearances.
I ask this every time, whether it’s a popular question or not--I have no idea. But, tell us about the baseball culture in Raleigh…
It's a work in progress. NC State has had a pretty good decade-and-a-half, with a few Super Regional appearances and one trip to Omaha, but the program hasn't been able to stick consistently in the top 25. Getting to the CWS helped increase attention and ticket sales, though you definitely wouldn't find anything to match the atmosphere at Florida State, or at most places in the SEC.
Baseball is still largely an afterthought that I think most people only check on once basketball season ends.
Are a lot of fans expected to travel this weekend?
We do have a couple kids from Texas--Jake Armstrong and Palmeiro--so it could be a decent contingent. With this regional being so far away, though, it's not like Pack fans will be taking over the ballpark.
What’s the expectation of TCU and Fort Worth? Not only from a baseball standpoint, but athletics as a whole, do you feel like TCU’s more well known in that part of the country now, as opposed to say, 5 years ago?
I'm really unfamiliar with that part of the country, unfortunately--flown through Dallas/Ft. Worth, sure, but never actually spent time there. With that said, no doubt that TCU's profile is higher than it was in the southeast. Being good at football helps a lot in that regard.
That program is just about the extent of my familiarity with TCU, which is one reason why I'm looking forward to the weekend ahead.
And because we are a Texas blog, and football runs Texas; tell us how the Wolfpack football is going to be this year. Doeren definitely seems to have y’all in the right direction…
Probably a year or two away from potentially making a run at the Atlantic Division but still good enough to win seven or eight games against the soft schedule they've got. NC State pulverized some teams on the ground toward the end of last season, so I'm curious to see how much of that carries over. That's Dave Doeren's preference, to run the dang ball. It's a different sensation since we've been so consistently bad in that aspect for so long, but I kinda like it.
All we gotta do is replace a pair of senior tackles up front; that's easy, right?
If they're going to take this thing, they can't afford to be sloppy. That means the pitching staff has got to be sharp and avoid hemorrhaging walks, while the hitters need to maintain consistent and smart approaches at the plate.
If the pitching is wild, State might not ever see TCU this weekend, what with those impressively patient Stony Brook kids up first on Friday afternoon. And walking hitters plays right into TCU's hands with the speed up and down that lineup. If we're walking a half dozen guys every game, it's going to be tough to overcome.
Who makes it out alive this weekend?
I'll go with the home team here; I've seen how difficult it is to win these things as the road team, and I'm not going to bet against the team that plays the cleaner brand of baseball. I think the Frogs' superior pitching depth makes the difference, though I do think they'll have to beat NC State twice.