After opening the season with against Hawaii, baseball returns to Raleigh friday afternoon when NC State faces Austin Peay. The Pack (2-1) currently sits at 6 in the D1Baseball.com Top 25, ahead of every other ACC team except for Florida State. This will be the first competitive game that takes place at Doak Field since last year’s NCAA Regional matchup against eventual National Champions Coastal Carolina. In that game, State was one strike away from beating the Chanticleers and advancing to the super-regional at LSU. That painful loss, combined with a 7 run lead blown vs TCU in a regional final two years ago, have left fans hesitant to believe this year’s preseason hype.
For NC State to be successful this year, they are going to have to rely on a core of juniors. The Pack’s only seniors this season are pitchers, but junior shortstop Joe Dunand was named to the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award for the best amature baseball player in the nation. Dunand, the nephew of Alex Rodriguez, is the first State player to be named to the watch list since 2014, when Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner were considered preseason favorites. After being included in that rather exclusive group of names, many fans will look to Dunand to be the leadership the team needs if they are going to reach the College World Series for the third time in school history (1968,2013)
The Five To Watch
- vs. Louisville (March 24-26)
- When the Cards come to town, the Wolfpack will face their biggest test up to that point. Tenth ranked Louisville joins FSU and Clemson as State’s major competitors in the Atlantic division, which could make this early matchup important to the final standings.
- vs. FSU (April 7-9)
- It’s always an advantage to face the conference favorites at home, but regardless of the location this series will be the measurement of whether an ACC championship is a realistic possibility.
- at UNC-CH (April 14-16)
- The coastal division favorite is dangerous, as always, and this series should be fun. I expect a few Pack fans to come support the team on their weekend. visit to Chapel Hill, which will likely be a matchup of ranked teams. And also, it’s Carolina vs State, so the unexpected is expected.
- at East Carolina (April 26)
- This single game trip to Greenville is a lose lose for the Pack. ECU is the smaller school, from the weaker conference, and won’t be expected to win. If they do come out on top, it could be a negative both for the season, and recruiting for the future.
- vs. Clemson (May 18-20)
- The last series State has before the conference tournament is against defending champions Clemson. This could be very influential for both tourney seeding and momentum heading into the postseason.