Red-hot NC State baseball heads to Louisville for ACC Tournament

The Pack won 13 of 15 to close out the regular season

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal
N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent watches play during the NCAA Tournament regional game against Navy on Friday

RALEIGH — Sometimes it’s not about how you start a season, but how you finish it. The NC State baseball team will certainly hope that’s the case as it heads to Louisville, Kentucky for the 2017 ACC Tournament. Following a sweep at the hands of Boston College, who at the time were conference bottom-dwellers, the team ripped off a blistering run to end the regular season. The Wolfpack finished with wins in 13 of its last 15 games, including three straight ACC series victories. “Our backs were kind of against the wall after that,” redshirt senior starting pitcher Johnny Piedmonte said. “We knew we had to make a push the next couple weekend series and we did that to put ourselves in a good position going into the ACC tournament. We have good momentum, so I’m excited to see where we go.”The Pack won its last regular-season series at home, taking two of three from the visiting Clemson Tigers at Doak Field. That gave the team the seven seed in the tournament, placing it in pool B, where the team will take on 11th-seeded Boston College at 3 p.m. tomorrow, and face its archrival, the 2nd-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, on Friday at 7 p.m.No one needs reminding of what happened the last time the Pack faced the Eagles this season. In a three-game series in Boston in late April, NC State was swept by Boston College, dropping the first game at Fenway Park and both games of a Sunday doubleheader at Shea Stadium. That series, at the time, represented only the Eagles’ second ACC series win of the year, and the Pack scored five total runs in the three games. State is ready for a second crack at the opponent that represented this season’s rock bottom.”I’m pretty excited,” junior first baseman Stephen Pitarra said. “We’re all glad we get to play Boston College again. We feel like last time against them, we weren’t playing our best baseball, and we definitely feel like we’re playing our best baseball now.”Boston College has been a familiar nemesis for the Wolfpack in the 2016-17 season; the football and men’s basketball teams also fell to the Eagles in the past year.”I don’t understand that; it just seems like they have our number,” Piedmonte said. “I’m hoping we can get them tomorrow, set the tournament up right. I think we’ll get a little revenge, hopefully, from them sweeping us a couple weeks ago.”The Eagles finished the season hot, winning seven of their last eight, including a sweep over Notre Dame in their final regular-season series, to make their way into the tournament.”I don’t believe in getting shots at people,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “I don’t think you play with revenge. If you want revenge or a chip on your shoulder, you do that in the offseason so you train a little harder. I don’t believe in that. They’re a good team, obviously, there’s a reason they beat us. We’ve got to find a way to beat them.”The defeat to Boston College represented the turning point of NC State’s season, sending the team on the run that has it in its position now, heading to the ACC Tournament red-hot with a strong chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament, if the team is not already a lock. For Avent, the streak is simply the Pack recovering from early-season injuries and a road-heavy schedule to start the year.”I said in every season, there’s a game that turns it around,” Avent said. “…I haven’t pinpointed which game that was. It was more like when we came home from Boston. I think Mendoza said it best. Mendoza said the other day to a question that he got on Friday or Saturday that he doesn’t see any difference in the way we’re playing now and the way we played at the beginning of the season.”The beginning of the season, a lot of injuries, the pitching wasn’t where it should be and we weren’t swinging the bats extremely well. Everything was the same. What they did was they stuck with everything. And when you stick with things, sometimes when you come out on the other side, you come out even stronger. That’s what this ball club did.”The Pack will hope its late-season turnaround includes a run through the ACC tournament, and perhaps beyond.