NC State baseball enters season with high expectations, but has a lot to replace | Sports
It’s been quite a season for the NC State baseball team in 2021. A remarkable mid-season turnaround led to an unlikely and inspiring run to the College World Series, all cut short of the national championship by a controversial decision from the NCAA forcing NC State to forfeit, ending a magical season and leaving the team and fans wondering “What if?”
Seven months later, Pack9 is set to return to the field in one of the most anticipated seasons in school history. The story of the offseason has been one of revenge and redemption as all eyes are on another run in Omaha. But getting it that far won’t be easy.
The Pack has lost much of its production from last year’s team to the pros, including seven of nine starters in the regular batting rotation and two of its top pitchers. Simply put, the Pack will have a lot to replace with a lot of new faces.
The good news is that the guys returning from last year’s team were key contributors. From the batting rotation, the Pack returns two seniors in outfielder Devonte Brown and infielder JT Jarrett. While the two of them were sixth and seventh respectively on the team in batting average, they each proved to be capable hitters in key moments.
In last year’s ACC Tournament, Jarrett had RBIs in playoff games against Pitt and Georgia Tech, which ended up being the winners. In the regional round of the NCAA Tournament, Brown stole the show, hitting three home runs in the region, including a game-breaking grand slam in the decisive win over Louisiana Tech. He was also successful in Game 1 of the College World Series against Stanford.
However, Jarrett and Brown are not only capable hitters, but are also sensational defenders, making scoring plays on a team that was sixth in the nation in fielding percentage. Perhaps one of the best plays of the season came in what turned out to be the final game when Brown dived against Vanderbilt to steal an extra hit.
On the mound, the Pack returns three pitchers from last year’s regular rotation. The ace will almost certainly be second-year right-hander Sam Highfill, who proved to be one of the best pitchers in the nation late last season and received multiple preseason All-American honors this season. Highfill had his last five starts last season, including wins over No. 1 Arkansas and an epic shutout against Vanderbilt in the College World Series.
Also returning is second-year right-handed pitcher Matt Willadsen, who played well in starts against Duke in the ACC Championship and the Pack’s decisive win over Arkansas in the Super Regional. The other returning pitcher is second-year left-hander Chris Villaman who also played well late last season and even saw time in a starting point role during the season.
Besides these guys, the faces of this year’s team will be relatively new. However, many of them got playing time and gained experience in key moments last season.
In what turned out to be the final game of the season, the Pack played with a 13-man roster in a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt. Many players were not part of the regular rotation, including second-year infielder Carson Falsken, second-year infielder Eddie Eisert, second-year infielder DeAngelo Giles and right-handed pitcher sophomore Garrett Payne, all of whom return in 2022. Not only did they play, but they almost won the game as the Pack were one swing away from defeating the Commodores in the end.
The Pack also adds a host of transfers and new signings, but it’s unclear right now who the main contributors will be. What is known is that this year’s NC State team will be almost a completely different team than 2021.
It’s safe to say that despite losing nearly the entire squad of players from the team’s regular rotation from last year, the Pack will still have plenty of talent in 2022. The media seems to think so because NC State has been ranked No. 16 preseason by Baseball America, No. 11 by NCBWA, No. 10 by D1 Baseball, No. 9 by USA Today, and No. 7 by Perfect Game.
The Pack was also chosen to finish second in the ACC Coastal Division in the ACC Pre-Season Media Poll with a vote for first place, which is exactly where the team stood during of the 2021 pre-season.
In the end, there’s only one thing on the minds of the team and NC State fans: getting back to Omaha. However, even if the Pack are able to replace the production they lost a season ago and have the talent to go back and forth, it will still be an extremely difficult task.
Simply put, it’s hard to win a championship in any sport. In baseball, there are a lot of games, innings, and pitches, but in the end it all comes down to what you do at the end of the season. Last season, NC State was a prime example of the phrase “This isn’t how you start, this is how you end” and managed to knock out some of the most dominant teams in the country over the course of the season. of the season, as then -No. 1 Arkansas then-No. 4 Vanderbilt. The Pack got hot at the right time, but one bad game or one mistake can end a season.
Fair or unfair, for many fans it will be Omaha or a bust for NC State in 2022. Does the Pack have the talent to make it happen? Probably. Will the pack make it? There’s no way to know. But one thing is for sure: If the pack is somehow able to not just return to Omaha, but win it all, it would be one of the all-time championships in college sports history.