After being swept by Virginia in Charlottesville, N.C. State baseball appeared headed towards the same fate of the university’s football and basketball programs — endless potential and endless frustration.
Maybe it is, but they won’t go down without a fight.
The No. 19 Wolfpack (25-10) defeated East Carolina, 2-0, on Tuesday night to extend its winning streak to seven games while claiming victory in nine of the past 10 games. First baseman Tarran Senay hit a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth for the only runs of the night in front of an energized crowd of 2,951 at Doak Field at Dail Park. State’s bullpen, which has suffered from inconsistency throughout the year, held the fort down after starter Karl Keglovits went 4 2/3 innings giving up just two hits.
State has caught fire at exactly the right time after a perplexing 4-7 start to conference play. Now at 8-7 in the ACC, the Pack will travel to Boston College this weekend for a three-game series against the lowly Eagles (0-14 in ACC play).
The charge started back at UNC-Wilmington on March 27 and continued with taking two out of three from Maryland, besting ECU on the road, getting revenge on Elon a day later, sweeping No. 22 Virginia Tech and then scrapping past ECU once again. Pitching and defense has been paramount during the stretch, as State has held seven of its last 10 opponents to four runs or less.
Key players emerging this season include SS Trea Turner (.429 avg, 28 RBIs), OF Jake Fincher (.336 avg, 46 hits) and P Grant Sasser (1 ER in 23.2 IP). State is 18-1 when leading after the 5th inning.
Every win is putting him closer to being one of the best golfers in ACC history.
N.C. State’s Albin Choi fended off Daniel Berger of Florida State and Dykes Harbin of South Carolina to capture the USF Invitational by three strokes on Tuesday afternoon at the par-72 Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club just outside of Tampa, Fla. The victory is the junior’s eighth career win — two short of 2009 NCAA Champion Matt Hill’s NCSU school record — and the fourth in his past seven starts. According to Golf Week, the Toronto native has become the 18th-ranked amateur in the world and is currently the 9th-ranked collegiate player in the nation.
The 54-hole event got off to an auspicious start for Choi who birdied three of his first six holes en route to an opening round 68 (-4). Despite four bogeys in the first seven holes of his second round, Choi utilized a sizzling back nine 31 to duplicate his first round score and land him atop the leader board heading into Tuesday’s final round. A late double bogey on hole No. 15 gave the rest of the field some momentary hope, but a birdie at No. 17 sealed what would end up being a three-short victory for Choi (68-68-72).
In the team portion of the event, N.C. State (-4) had just enough fire power to outlast No. 43 South Carolina (-3) and No. 16 Florida State (-1). State’s Logan Harrell (-1) and Carter Page (E) snuck into the top 10 on the individual leader board to help Choi (-8) earn their team its first victory of the year.
The Wolfpack returns to action next week at the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate in Aiken, S.C. where Choi can earn his third consecutive win. He has already doubled the mark of past greats Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson, two players who have combined for five PGA TOUR victories.
On a team with tremendous athleticism, it’s actually turned out to be some of the fundamentals that have contributed to nearly all eight losses for N.C. State (20-8, 9-6 ACC) this season.
The Wolfpack has a minus-22 turnover differential in its eight losses, which included a three-game losing streak sans turnover-prone point guard Lorenzo Brown. Considering freshman replacement Tyler Lewis committed just one turnover in the 90 combined minutes he played during those games without Brown (3.4 TPG), this stat could easily be much worse.
Some of the most costly losses where turnovers played a key factor were games at then-No. 3 Michigan and rival North Carolina (minus-7 turnover differential) and also on the road versus Virginia (minus-6 turnover differential). The enigmatic play of junior C.J. Leslie has been a prominent factor in this department all season long, as the ultra-athletic but often lackadaisical forward from Holly Springs has 3.2 TPG this season.
Another seemingly missing fundamental which has frustrated State fans throughout the year has been the team’s free throw shooting, which sinks to 61% (79-of-128) in losses. For a group unable to crack the top 200 teams in the nation when it comes to its overall free throw shooting percentage (68.2%), losing four games by three points or less is particular maddening when the team fails to take advantage of the charity stripe. Due to the lineup’s size advantage over almost any team it will play, State regularly goes to the line 15-20 times per contest.
To make a run in March and rekindle some of the magic from last season’s Sweet Sixteen journey, taking care of the fundamentals will end up being monumental and could very well decide the fate of a team that was once predicted to win the ACC.
N.C. State plays in Atlanta versus Georgia Tech (15-12, 5-10 ACC) tonight at 6 p.m. before finishing the regular season versus Wake Forest (12-16, 5-11 ACC) and Florida State (15-13, 7-8 ACC).
Following a surprising 6-3 season-opening loss to Appalachian State back on Feb. 15, State has rattled off eight consecutive wins and will look to add to that mark this weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C at Coastal Carolina’s Baseball at the Beach tournament.
Sophomore pitching sensation Carlos Rodon suffered his first collegiate loss in that season-opener to the Mountaineers, but the stout southpaw rebounded for seven no-hit innings against La Salle and could be destined for a similar performance when he takes the mound Saturday evening at 5 p.m. against Florida Atlantic; the Owls (5-4) had just six hits in a 4-1 loss to Coastal Carolina on Friday afternoon and watched their top four hitters in the lineup go a combined 2-for-15.
After dropping the sold-out opener in the middle of the month, State has charged into winning form despite cold temperatures in the City of Oaks. Beginning the season at No. 8 in the nation, expectations have been sky high for a team that fell to the country’s top overall seed, the Florida Gators, in last year’s Gainesville Super Regional. With conference play prepared to kickoff in Raleigh next Friday, keeping the momentum of a solid home stand becomes even more imperative for State, a program still searching for its first trip to Omaha since the Pack’s only appearance in 1968.
Since giving up the six runs to Appalachian State, no team has been able to score more than four runs on one of the deepest pitching staffs in the nation. Twelve pitchers on the Wolfpack have failed to give up an earned run this season, including starting sophomore pitcher Logan Jernigan (1-0). Rodon, who was the first freshman in conference history to become the ACC Pitcher of the Year, owned a 1.57 ERA last season but will need to string together several outstanding outings to get back there after surrendering five runs in the opener.
Following games against Florida Atlantic and Coastal Carolina (4-4), NCSU will visit Elon (4-4) on Tuesday before returning home to Doak Field for a Wednesday duel with Campbell (8-1). The ACC slate begins on Thursday when Clemson (5-3) ventures outside of South Carolina for the first time this season.