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    TIM PEELER: Pack Baseball Up in Arms for Bulldogs
     
     

    BY TIM PEELER

     

    RALEIGH, N.C. NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent had a major comfort while he was mowing the grass Monday night.

     

    His wife kept calling out the scores from the decisive NCAA Athens (Ga.) Regional title game between Georgia and Georgia Tech game while he was doing yardwork at his home. The Bulldogs eventually won the contest, 18-6, to earn the right to host a Super Regional against the Wolfpack this weekend at its on-campus stadium, Foley Field.

     

    The updates Avent got from his wife might have made other coaches a little queasy, as the Bulldogs scored three or more runs in five different innings. But only one thing ran through Avent’s mind.

     

    “We’ve got good pitching and a great pitching coach,” Avent said Tuesday afternoon, as he and his team finished their first practice at Doak Field at Dail Park in preparation for the Super Regional. “We have all year long.”

     

    Indeed, pitching has carried the Wolfpack this far, with associate head coach Tom Holliday calling all the shots. He has not only developed capable starters like junior Clayton Shunick, Eric Surkamp and freshman Jake Buchanan, but his bullpen goes seven or eight arms deep. He has a versatile left-hander in Alex Sogard, who has started, pitched in middle relief and, in Sunday night’s regional championship game against South Carolina, picked up a save with a nearly unhittable fastball.

     

    So Avent has reason for not feeling all that intimidated about going against a Georgia team that scored 44 runs in its final three games this weekend: South Carolina hit more home runs than any team in the SEC (110) and finished the season with 220 extra-base hits. The Wolfpack pitching staff held the Gamecocks to 11 hits in two games, only three of which went for extra bases.

     

    But the Bulldogs have three players with double-figure home runs, including shortstop Gordon Beckham’s team-leading 24 homers on the season. They also have a team batting average of .306 and slugging percentage of .479.

     

    Georgia, from the beginning of the season on, has been one of the feared offensive clubs in the country,” Holliday said. “They are going to be feeling very confident playing in their ballpark. They are very similar to South Carolina, except that they have more right-handed hitters. You have to fear their right-handed power.”

     

    Holliday announced that he would start off with Shunick (7-5, 2.16 ERA), who has been the Wolfpack’s ace starter all season long, in Friday’s noon opener against the Bulldogs. He did not announce starters for the second or third game, if needed.

     

    Holliday, who has been to 15 College World Series as a player and a coach, knows how important winning the first game of a Super Regional is. So he won’t be afraid to tap into his bullpen as early as possible.

     

    “We have enough arms,” he said. “We will throw the kitchen sink at them in Game 1, if we have to. We are just fortunate enough that we can throw the kitchen sink at them one day and still have another kitchen to turn to the next day.”

     

    The Wolfpack won’t be able to feed off the adrenaline provided by sell-out crowds at Doak Field at Dail Park last weekend. Those crowds were at full volume on two the regional’s biggest hits, Ryan Pond’s two-run, two-out double against James Madison and Jeremy Synan’s game-tying home run against South Carolina in the title game. But that doesn’t mean Georgia’s hostile crowd can’t have the same effect.

     

    “We are two wins away from where we need to be,” Holliday said. “If we can’t go to Athens, Ga., and forget about where we are and let that crowd of 5,000 people fire us up instead of let us down, all that we did last weekend is for naught. We have played and pitched in front of some big crowds, at Florida State and against East Carolina. We are going to have to deal with that, but we are an experienced staff.”

     

    The Wolfpack players seemed to be loose Tuesday afternoon, as they went through their last drills of the season at their home park. The team will leave for Athens after lunch Wednesday to begin preparations for Friday’s opener. Tickets for the regional are $40, and will be available to Wolfpack Club members and current season ticket holders until noon Wednesday. After noon, all tickets will be sold through the Georgia ticket office.

     

    Avent was also loose, still basking in winning the third regional title in school history. Over the last couple of days, he’s heard from numerous former players, fans and big Wolfpack supporters.

     

    Some of his most cherished calls and messages have been from players from the 2003 team that played against Miami in the Wolfpack’s only other Super Regional to date and from members of the 1968 team that made the school’s only appearance in the College World Series. Those former players are eager to add this year’s Wolfpack team to the  list of best in school history.

     

    “Alex Cheek [who was an All-America outfielder on the 1968 team] told me that they need to have some company,” Avent said. “They don’t want to be like the Miami Dolphins, the only team that has ever done something. They don’t want to be the only team [in NC State history] to reach the plateau of going to the College World Series.”

     

    You may contact Tim Peeler at tim_peeler@ncsu.edu.


     

     

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