Baseball Opens 2012 Campaign Friday
Feb. 17, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
The February mornings are frosty and the afternoons sometimes frigid, but the sights and sounds of spring are evident at NC State.
Harkening the cry of "Play Ball!," the Wolfpack -- eager and determined -- opens another baseball season at home today (3 p.m.) against Marshall.
While hopes are high and the hype considerable, the Pack believes it has the ingredients to make an impact in the fiercely competitive ACC, one of the nation's elite power leagues.
Coach Elliott Avent, who has amassed a school-record 556 victories taken 11 teams to the regionals in 15 seasons, cited several reasons for optimism.
"This is the best defensive team I've had in 16 years; it's the best team speed we've had in 16 years," Avent said, who also noted the Pack "can still hit" despite losing last season's top batters, Pratt Maynard and Harold Riggins.
WATCH THE ROOKIES
Then there's a top five recruiting class joining a host of returning position starters from last season's 15-15 ACC team that reached received a NCAA bid for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
Among the newcomers is Holly Springs' Carlos Rodon, a 6-3, 234-pound lefthanded pitcher who was rated the nation's No. 3 college prospect by Baseball America.
How good is he?
"He's unreal,'' said Avent, calling Rodon "probably the best recruited pitcher we've had at NC State."
Along with a slider, cutter, curve and change up, his fast ball hums in the 88-94 MPH range.
"I've never seen a guy come through with so many pitches,'' Avent said. "He's really, really good and will only get better. He can be pretty special."
Still, he has to prove it against some of the best hitters in college baseball.
Avent and staff will closely scrutinize pitchers during the non-conference portion of the schedule. The projected pre-season rotation includes Rodon, D.J. Thomas, Ethan Ogburn and Vance Williams with Chris Overman anchoring the bullpen.
Overman is on the national Stopper of the Year watch list and for good reason. As a sophomore last season, he posted a 6-3 record with seven saves, a 2.39 ERA and struck out 45 batters in 49 innings.
The Pack will need a duplicate effort by Overman and several more strong arms against conference opponents, which include six teams ranked in Baseball America's top 25 poll.
State is picked third behind Clemson and Florida State in the ACC Coastal Division, but senior co-captain Andrew Ciencin has loftier thoughts.
"The ACC championship -- that's where our mindset is, in the weight room, on the field, off the field; the ingredients are there,'' said Ciencin, who was named co-captain with pitcher Grant Sasser, a successful reliever in the past.
Captain Ciencin, who led State in batting as a freshman and RBIs as a sophomore, takes the leadership role seriously.
"It's really important to me and I know it is important to Sasser,'' said Ciencin, who is especially shepherding the new players on and off the field.
With Turner's arrival, Ciencin is switching from third to first base, a position change that suits him fine.
The remainder of the lineup could have Matt Bergquist (46 RBIs) at second base, Chris Diaz (.306 batting average) at short, Danny Canela (2.60) or Austin behind the plate, John Gianis (.289) or Ryan Matthews in right field, Tarran Senay in left field and Brett Williams (.286, 35 RBI) in center.
Williams, a senior, is a bandit on the base paths and covers the outfield like Jack Frost.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, an unbelievable competitor,'' Avent said. "He competes at a high, high level."
To win the elusive championship in the ACC, that's what it will take -- a pack of players performing at the highest level.
By A.J. Carr