Resurgent NC State set to take on Clemson to close out regular season

Coming off two straight series sweeps in the ACC, NC State set to host No. 15 Clemson at Doak Field starting Thursday night

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
NC State's Evan Mendoza was the first of many players with state ties to be selected on the final day of the Major League Baseball draft. He went in the 11th round to the St. Louis Cardinals

To say the NC State baseball team came into the 2017 season with high expectations would be an understatement. With a loaded lineup, and preseason rankings that reached as high as No. 6 in the country, the sky appeared to be the limit for the Pack. The opposite was true in the first 40 games. Inconsistent starting pitching, injuries and a tough early schedule combined for some tough sledding, and the team found itself at 20-20 after a sweep at the hands of ACC bottom-feeder Boston College. It was beginning to look like the Pack would miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 — another team that came in with ridiculously high expectations after making the College World Series the year prior.However, after the Boston College series, the team seemed to flip a switch and find its potential. The Wolfpack rattled off 11 wins in 12 games, outscoring its opponents 99-35 during that stretch, including six straight ACC wins. The hot streak has vaulted NC State into sixth in the ACC standings going into this weekend’s series with Clemson, and put the team right back in contention for a spot in the big dance.”You add that kind of schedule, that number of road games and then the injuries to our pitching staff, and we probably didn’t hit as well as we’d like to,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “I think it’s amazing we stayed as together as we did, and then lately we just kind of got healthy and put it all together and we’re playing very, very well.”State’s baseball players knew that if they stuck with their approach and kept grinding, they would eventually be rewarded, which is exactly what’s happened with this recent stretch.”Just staying with it; we know we have the talent,” junior shortstop Joe Dunand, who leads the team with 16 homeruns, said. “We can play with the best teams in the nation and just sticking with what our approach is and what we’ve been doing all year, just making little adjustments along the way has really helped us out.”That perseverance has rewarded the Pack with a familiar situation, a team playing its best baseball down the stretch of the regular season.”It’s something we’ve probably done since I’ve been here,” Avent said. “I’ve been here 21 years, with the absence of one year I think it’s what we’ve always done here at NC State; I don’t think there’s a formula. I think every coach wants to be playing their best at the end of the year. It isn’t like you give games away early, but you try and get the whole team ready early knowing you have to play your best ball at the end of the year.”That level of play has the team confident and excited heading into a series with the Tigers, who currently sit tied for fourth in the ACC. That presents a big opportunity for the Pack, who could move into that four spot themselves with a series sweep this weekend.”[We’re] controlling what we can control and playing with a lot of energy,” Dunand said. “The starting pitching’s been amazing; our defense has really started to polish up. Our bats are just starting to wake up. Little things like that are just starting to click for us; it’s good that it’s coming this late in the season. We’re excited for the upcoming weeks.”Avent knows that despite the Tigers’ recent struggles, as Clemson has been swept in its last two ACC series, his team still has a big challenge ahead of it against a very talented opponent this weekend.”You always want to play somebody at home,” Avent said. “I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to get somebody. Sometimes there’s a thing such as unanswered prayers. You can wish for something, get it and wish you didn’t have it. Clemson’s a great baseball team; they’ve had a great year; they’ve been very consistent. “When you talk about losing, you can lose to anybody in this league, they lose 5-4, 3-2; it’s not like they’re getting beat 12-1 right now. It’s not like the wheels have feel off. They’re a good team; we’re going to have to play awfully well, but we are playing well.”A red-hot stretch of play has given the Pack exactly what it wanted all season, a chance to get into the NCAA tournament and do some damage. A series win against the top-15 Tigers would go a long way in helping those chances, and continue to help the Pack show the potential everyone saw in it at the beginning of the season, and that the players knew it possessed all along.”I wouldn’t really say [our expectations have] changed,” Dunand said. “We were ranked number six before the season started; you know we hadn’t really played that well at the beginning or the middle of the season. We’re really feeling like we are one of the top teams in the nation right now. “Everyone’s playing to their abilities and their capabilities; we’re pretty confident with where we are right now.”