N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent didn’t sugarcoat how big this weekend is for his team.
Avent, the Wolfpack’s veteran skipper, is headed to the College World Series for the first time since 2013. He knows firsthand the glitz and glamour that his team will experience in Omaha, even if some of the festivities will be cut short due to COVID.
He called the CWS the “greatest experience in their collegiate life,” which includes the big stadium, the red carpet treatment and all eyes on the Midwest for two weeks.
The key, though, is not to get too caught up in all of that. There is still a job to do for N.C. State (35-18), which will take on Stanford at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the first game of the tournament.
When Avent took his Wolfpack to Omaha in 2013, he thought they had a real shot. They defeated rival UNC in the first game, and were one fluke baserunning mistake away from possibly defeating eventual champion UCLA.
“I told them it’s hard not to get caught up the first time you go out there,” Avent said. “There’s still going to be a certain part of eye opening things when they go out there and look around and see, but I also told them these are games now that any mistake you make, or any opportunity you don’t take advantage of is going to be magnified or be loss and you may not get the opportunity again.”
There have been heartbreaking regional losses since that last trip to Omaha and a season that was cut short by COVID a year ago. N.C. State battled injuries to some important players (Jose Torres, Jonny Butler, Austin Murr all missed significant time) and a less than ideal start (seven games canceled in the first two months) to finish strong down the stretch, including two dramatic wins in the Arkansas regional.
For Avent it was a matter of getting his lineup intact and sticking with it. He has played the same nine players for the better part of three months and, he said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That same lineup, a group that he’s called one of the more relaxed teams he’s coached, has battled back from adversity all year long. The latest challenge was recovering from a 21-2 blowout loss in Game 1 against the Razorbacks. No problem. All N.C. State did was win back-to-back, one-run games in front of Arkansas’ home crowd.
Up next is a Cardinal team that, like the Pack, pulled off consecutive wins against the host team, knocking off Texas Tech in Lubbock to advance to the CWS. Stanford (38-15) and N.C. State haven’t played against each other since the 2006 season. During that postseason showdown, the Cardinal won two games against the Wolfpack in Austin, Texas.
Avent referred to this trip to Omaha as a reward for his coaches, getting to see the players earn something they’ve worked for all season. Avent said he’s coached a lot of “great teams that fell short” of a trip to the CWS, but this weekend is about them as well.
Former players have reached out to congratulate him and announce their intentions of traveling to Nebraska this weekend. Does that put a little extra pressure on the current team? Maybe. But they are carrying a torch for all the guys who put on that jersey before.
“When a team from N.C. State goes to the greatest event that college baseball has to offer,” Avent said. “Every player that’s ever played in your program feels a part of that, and they should. This is all about the players. This is going to be so great for these guys, they deserve to be on this stage.”