Raleigh Hot Stove League to Honor NC State's Elliott Avent
Jan. 20, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. - Less than a month before the start of the 2004 college baseball season, NC State's incredible 2003 campaign is still in the news. The Raleigh Hot Stove League will present Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent with a special Board of Director's Award for Special Achievement.
Avent, who was voted Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year by the league's coaches and was named National Coach of the Year by CollegeBaseballInsider.com, guided NC State to a 45-18 record in 2003 despite facing long odds and tremendous adversity throughout the season.
NC State began the 2003 season picked sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in a preseason vote of the league's coaches. The Wolfpack was not ranked in any preseason polls, and no preseason projections of the NCAA Tournament had NC State pegged for the field of 64.
The Wolfpack began the year with no home field. Renovations began on Doak Field in the fall and lasted through the regular season and beyond, forcing the Wolfpack to hold fall practice at area high school fields. Preseason drills were held at nearby Broughton High School, and from February 10 through April 1, the Pack did not practice outdoors at all other than to take pregame batting practice. Because the team played its first 19 "home" games at six different ballparks away from campus (the closest was 18 miles away), even pregame batting practice was not a given as the team was at the mercy of the various host grounds crews. Six times in a seven-week span, NC State was forced to play a Saturday doubleheader because rain or the threat of rain. The Pack won 10 of those 12 games.
A week before the season started, pitching coach Bill Kernen took a leave of absence from the team for personal and health reasons. A month later, he officially resigned. The Wolfpack -- already without senior righthanders Daniel Caldwell and Derek McKee, the staff's two most experienced pitchers, for the season because of injuries -- played the season's first 43 games without a pitching coach. Former NC State lefthander Corey Lee (1994-96), rehabbing from "Tommy John" ligament-transplant sugrery, joined the team as interim pitching coach on April 24 and stayed with the team for the remainder of the season.
NC State confounded all the experts by finishing with a 45-18 overall record and a 15-9 mark in the ACC, good for third place in the final league standings. The 2003 Wolfpack won 45 games, more than all but six teams in the program's history, and the most by an NC State team since the 1994 team won 46.
With Doak Field in the process of being renovated, the Wolfpack had to get on a bus or airplane and travel to 53 of its 63 games. The Pack won 38 games away from campus in 2003, far and away the most in school history, and possibly a national record as well. NC State won 15 of the aforementioned 19 home-away-from-home games, including two of three from then-second-ranked Florida State, and two of three from then-10th-ranked Clemson. The Wolfpack missed tying the school record for road wins (wins at the opposing team's home ballpark) in a season by one. NC State went 14-9 in actual road games. The 1981, 1990 and 1993 teams each won 15 road games.
The Wolfpack reeled off a 16-game winning streak beginning February 28 and running through most of the month of March. The 16-game streak was the second longest winning streak in school history.
The Pack broke into the national rankings on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, at No. 25 in Collegiate Baseball, and stayed in the rankings the rest of the season, peaking at No. 5 on April 28. The Wolfpack spent seven consecutive weeks ranked in the national top 10, the first time in a decade that the Pack had cracked the top 10.
NC State had three players -- righthanded starter Vern Sterry, righthanded reliever Joey Devine and catcher Colt Morton -- named first team All-ACC, and two others -- righthanded starter Michael Rogers and outfielder Joe Gaetti -- named second team all-conference. The three first-teamers was the most by NC State since the 1992 squad had four, and the five total all-conference players was the most since six were named in 1997. In addition, Morton was one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, presented annually to the top catcher in college baseball.
The Wolfpack finished second in the ACC Tournament, then hosted an NCAA regional for the first time and won the 2003 Wilson Regional, the first NCAA postseason tournament championship for an NC State team since the 1968 team won the NCAA District 3 champion and advanced to the College World Series. For the first time since the current postseason format was adopted in 1999, NC State advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals, playing eighth-seeded Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. The Pack lost two nationally televised heartbreakers to the Hurricanes, losing once in the bottom of the ninth and once in extra innings.
NC State finished the season ranked No. 12 in all three major polls, the second highest finish in the program's history, and the highest in 35 years.
Following the season, the Wolfpack had seven players taken in Major League Baseball's First Year Player Draft, a school record.
The Raleigh Hot Stove League banquet will be January 27 at the McKimmon Center, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Individual tickets are available from the Durham Bulls, Carolina Mudcats, and Johnson-Lambe in Cameron Village in Raleigh for $25.