College World Series: N.C. State can’t wait for next season
RALEIGH — Carlos Rodon doesn’t think North Carolina State will wait 45 years for another College World Series trip.
The Wolfpack ace said Friday that “we’ll probably be there next year.”
N.C. State returned to campus Friday, less than 24 hours after the best baseball season in school history came to an end with a 7-0 loss to rival North Carolina.
The Wolfpack (50-16) set a school record for wins and made their first College World Series appearance since 1968.
They already sound eager for next year to get started — and it’s not hard to see why.
They’ll have two possible high draft picks back for their junior season in Rodon and shortstop Trea Turner, and they both now know what it takes to make it to Omaha.
“I saw the town I love, the school I love, I saw it embrace our ball club, and that, to me, is what we tell them every day,” coach Elliott Avent said. “Play hard, people will come see you play. Play hard and people will respect you. And win, they love you even more.”
This Wolfpack team took a significant step out of the long shadow cast by the Triangle rival Tar Heels, who made their sixth CWS appearance in eight years.
After sweeping through the regional and super regional — and sealing the berth in Omaha with a 17-inning win over Rice — N.C. State routed the Tar Heels 8-1 for their 50th win.
Losses to UCLA (2-1) and then to North Carolina on Thursday night brought a sudden end to the Wolfpack’s memorable year.
“I said it to the guys last night in the locker room. We had a hell of a run,” senior infielder Grant Clyde said. “As a senior class, we wanted to leave our impact on the program ... (and) I think we had a successful season. Granted, we didn’t win it all, which was our ultimate goal, but it was still a success. I told the guys I played with no regrets and left (everything) on the field.”
This season’s success was a few years in the making. N.C. State has been a postseason regular but couldn’t get past the super regional round, having been eliminated twice since 2008 at that stage before finally breaking through this year against Rice.
“We just can’t keep saying ‘First time since 1968,’” Avent said. “Now they’ve got to say, ‘Last time (was) 2013.’”
They’ve got enough key pieces returning that this College World Series trip might not have been a one-shot deal.
Rodon, a hard-throwing lefty who led the nation with 170 strikeouts — 23 more than anyone else in Division I — is back for another season before he’s eligible to be drafted by a big-league club. So is Turner, who in two seasons has reached base in almost 94 percent of his games.
“We have a great program. We’ve got a good nucleus coming back, but we lose great seniors and great leadership,” Avent said. “That’s not easy to replace. Sometimes you can replace line drives and at-bats and catching ground balls. Leadership is essential on any ball club.”