After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last six years, No. 20 NC State’s 2015 postseason run ended on a somber note.
Taking an 8-1 lead into the eighth inning against TCU, the Wolfpack dropped its final game in the Fort Worth Regional in 10 innings with a final score of 9-8. With the majority of its starters returning, State looks poised for a strong 2016 season.
Though ranked 20th according to USA Today‘s Coaches’ Poll, the Pack enters the season ranked within the top 10 according to D1Baseball.com for the third time in four years. State, pegged at No. 10 in the latter rankings, joins five other Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the top 25, including Louisville (No. 2), Miami (No. 6) and 2015 College World Series champion Virginia (No. 13).
Three Up, Three Down
- All-Conference performers: Andrew Knizner, Preston Palmeiro, and Brian Brown earned all-conference honors last season. Knizner and Palmeiro were placed on the All-ACC Second Team while Brown was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team. After transitioning from third base to catcher, Knizner finished second on the team in batting average (.317), hits (73), and RBI (42) while only striking out 18 times in 230 at-bats (the fewest on the team with over 100 AB). Palmeiro ended the year with 7 home runs (T-2nd on the team) and 49 RBI (led the team). Brown was one of the anchors of the Wolfpack’s rotation, leading the team in starts (15), innings pitched (79.2), and wins (7).
- Tommy DeJuneas: DeJuneas made 10 starts in the outfield and finished with a .257 average, four RBI, six runs, and one HR. His main contributions were on the mound, where he led the team in earned run average (1.82), saves (6), and opposing batting average (.150).
- Elliott Avent: Elliott Avent enters his 20th season as the Wolfpack’s skipper. He has amassed a 681-421 record with State and holds a 906-634 record overall as a head coach. Avent has coached 13 players that have reached the majors including Joey Devine (1st round, 27th overall in 2005), Andrew Brackman (1st round, 30th overall in 2007), and Carlos Rodon (1st round, 3rd overall in 2014).
- Ryne Willard: Willard put up decent numbers on offense, finishing with a .287 average, 29 runs, four homers, and 20 RBI, but also a team-high 53 strikeouts. However, he finished second on the team in fielding errors last season with 12, including two in the disastrous eighth inning against the Horned Frogs. The Wolfpack will have to hope that his performance on the field doesn’t carry over into the 2016 season.
- Hype: The last NC State baseball team that had high expectations entering the season (2014) resulted in an 8-8 finish with its premier starter (who ended up getting drafted third overall in the MLB Draft), a mediocre season (32-23, 13-17 ACC), and a heart-breaking loss to UNC-Chapel Hill in the ACC Tournament play-in game. If the team can keep the ranking out of the way of progress, the season should turn out fine for the Wolfpack.
- Cory Wilder: Wilder (2-5, 3.50 ERA in 2015) enters the season as one of the key members on the Wolfpack rotation. He finished the season as the team leader in strikeouts (79) and second in opposing batting average (.161). However, he also led the team in losses (5), earned runs (25), walks (59), and wild pitches (12) while also third on the team with hit batsmen (10). I have little faith that Wilder will have any improvement, but he’ll have to have a great year for the Pack to have a chance at competing for the conference championship.
The Wolfpack will begin its season on Friday, February 19th in Myrtle Beach where Johnny Piedmonte will start on the mound against Old Dominion at TicketReturn.Com Park at noon. The game can be heard on 88.1 WKNC.
Click here for Part Two.