NC State baseball near the top of the polls

Coach Elliott Avent has guided the Wolfpack to a 31-8 record and No. 2 ranking

Sixth-year pitcher Johnny Piedmonte, pictured last August, is 4-1 on the season for the Wolfpack. (James Guillory / USA Today Sports)

Elliott Avent had a feeling that this NC State baseball team was going to be good.

But then, he’s had the same feeling about most of the other recent Wolfpack teams he’s coached.

“I know the record and I know the No. 2 ranking, but this club is not much different than the last three or four clubs,” said Avent, whose 31-8 squad is ranked second in multiple national polls. “They’ve all been good. They’ve all had great leadership. We’ve just won more games. Sometimes it just happens that way.”

It hasn’t happened by accident, though.

Among the biggest reasons why this State team has won in a way others have not is the resilience it has shown in rising to the top of the ACC’s Atlantic Division standings at 15-6 heading into this weekend’s sold out rivalry series with North Carolina.

Before winning the first two games at Duke last weekend, the Wolfpack went through a stretch in which it lost four straight series-opening games, only to storm back and win the final two games each time.

State, which had Tuesday’s nonconference showdown against No. 8 East Carolina washed out by rain, is the only ACC team that has yet to lose a weekend series to a conference opponent.

It’s a consistency Avent believes has been developed through experience. And there’s plenty of veteran presence to go around in his dugout.

Pitching ace Brian Brown is a senior. Fellow starter Johnny Piedmonte is in his sixth year while closer Joe O’Donnell is in his fifth. There aren’t many situations they haven’t experienced in their careers.

Among the position players, right fielder Brock Deatherage and second baseman Stephen Pitarra are seniors while juniors Brett Kinneman and Josh McLain are multiple-year starters.

It’s a group, along with seasoned sophomores Will Wilson, Brad Debo and junior college transfer Evan Edwards, that has set an example a talented group of freshmen — led by standout catcher Patrick Bailey — has enthusiastically followed.

“It’s impressive to watch this team go about their business,” Avent said. “Baseball is not an easy game to play, but it’s a fun game to watch when it’s played well. And right now, these guys are going about their business very well.”

They’re doing it both at the plate and on the mound.

The Wolfpack ranks sixth nationally with 56 home runs through 39 games, with three players already having reached double figures. Kinneman, who has cooled off of late, ranks among the nation’s leaders with 13 long balls. Edwards, whose eighth-inning blast at Durham Bulls Athletic Park put the finishing touches on a nonconference win against the Tar Heels last week, and Wilson have 10 each.

As a team, State is hitting a robust .303 while averaging 7.5 runs per contest.

“When we get in counts where we’re disciplined and not trying to do too much, we can beat you in a lot of different ways,” Avent said. “Our offense has been good.”

So has the pitching.

Brown, who like Kinneman is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as national Player of the Year, is 6-0 in 10 starts with a minuscule 0.99 earned run average. Piedmonte is 4-1 while O’Donnell has been lights out from the bullpen with eight saves. Freshman Reid Johnston (6-0, four saves) has also been a major contributor, both out of the bullpen and, more recently, as a starter.

The balance between pitching and hitting — and the variety of different contributors to both — make the Wolfpack a dangerous team once the rapidly approaching postseason arrives.

“There’s not one guy where you go, ‘Dang, if this guy doesn’t play well, we’re going to lose,’“ Kinneman said after last week’s 8-3 win against UNC. “It always feels like it’s somebody different coming through.”