OMAHA, Neb. — NC State is not ESPN’s kind of team.
The sports network is known for (perhaps infamous for) obsessing on the star player on a given team — the LeBrons, Zions, Bradys and the like — to the exclusion of anyone with a lower Q Score, which is pretty much everyone on the State baseball team.
The Wolfpack don’t have any superstar media darlings on the roster, they just beat them.
“The last three games we faced (No. 1 Arkansas’ pitching star) Kevin Kopps; (Stanford’s) Brendan Beck, who is the pitcher of the year in the Pac-12, and he’s sensational,” said State coach Elliott Avent. “Then you get (Vanderbilt’s) Jack Leiter, who’s just — I’ve been around for a long time, and that’s one of the performances I’ve seen that — right up there at the top of the performances I’ve seen.”
State won all three of those games, beating three future Cy Young candidates in the process even though no one in a Wolfpack uniform will warrant a dedicated ESPN camera during their next broadcast.
“It’s always been a team win with us,” Avent said. “That’s the way it’s been all year. We played — the last three months, it’s no secret, we played nine guys pretty much every day. (Austin) Murr likes to say it’s nine guys from nine states.”
The lack of the “one guy” to focus on means the Pack have a variety of methods to beat opponents.
“This is a team that throughout the lineup can figure out how to be productive and score runs,” Avent said. “And that’s the name of the game. And we scored in different ways because we can bunt, we can run, we can hit with power, hit gaps, singles. And we just do it in different ways. When you get to this stage with all the quality pitching that’s out there in the country, you have to be able to be versatile to score runs in this environment. And I think that’s, once again, that showed.”
Jose Torres has been State’s star, homering in each of the three super regional games against No. 1 Arkansas, including the game-winner in the deciding third game.
Jonny Butler has been the star, driving in a career-high five runs in the CWS-opening 10-4 win over Stanford, the only Wolfpack win in the last four that wasn’t a one-run decision.
Sam Highfill has been the man, matching Leiter 0 for 0 in an epic pitchers’ duel, setting the stage for Terrell Tatum to be the star by homering off Leiter for the game’s only run.
With back-to-back wins to start its College World Series run, the Wolfpack now have an unexpected luxury during the postseason — time off to recuperate. While the losers bracket works out its business Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Wolfpack have nearly four days off before playing again on Friday afternoon.
“I just think we need rest,” Avent said. “Everybody knows we don’t have a deep, deep bullpen. We’ve battled that all year. So to go in that losers bracket would have been tough for us. But the main thing, I think, is the rest right now.”
The Pack have been battling flu-like symptoms during its postseason run, so the team hopes to use its time off to recover from that, as well.
“Coach (Chris) Hart’s been sick for probably five or six days,” Avent said. “J.T. Jarrett caught the bug a couple days ago. Cameron Cotter. I’ve got it a little bit. This bug seems to be floating around. And I think right now it’s important for our players to get some rest.”
The Wolfpack players will need to be rested and healthy. While State is in the best position it could possibly be at this point, Avent knows there’s still a dogfight or two before the team can reach the championship series.
“You might say it’s a couple wins away, but it’s still hard,” he said. “Every win you get in Omaha is tough, nail-biting. Not only eight of the best teams in the country, but it’s the last eight teams in the country, and they’re here for a reason because they’re playing their best baseball of the year. We were here before. I remember this game last time I was here. We lost 2-1 to UCLA, and UCLA went on to win the national championship. Every win you get is important, but it’s still a long way to go.”
Fortunately, the Wolfpack have a roster full of players who could step up and be the star on any given day.