After winning 14 of its final 17 games, the North Carolina State baseball team will compete in the NCAA Lexington Regional this weekend.
The Wolfpack may be one of the hottest teams coming into the regional and will take on the Indiana Hoosiers on Friday. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
Many expected N.C. State to be a top-15 team this season, but the Wolfpack dropped in the rankings after spending most of the year near a .500 record. Now the Wolfpack is performing like many expected them to, thanks to an uptick in production in the batter’s box.
Seven of the nine regular starters for N.C. State have improved their batting averages during the season-ending 17-game stretch. Three players have improved their averages by at least .030, led by power-hitting shortstop Joe Dunand.
Dunand leads the Wolfpack in home runs with 16, tied for 36th most in the NCAA. Dunand’s batting average stands at .284, fifth best on the team.
Freshman DH Brad Debo leads the team in batting average at .342. Debo’s great freshman season earned him a spot on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Third Team and the All-ACC Freshman Team.
The Hoosiers will also have to watch out for outfielder Mike McLain, the only other player on the N.C. State roster hitting better than .300.
McLain leads the team in hits, and once he gets on base he is a threat to steal, as he has stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts.
Dunand, Debo and McLain are N.C. State’s main threats, but any Wolfpack player is capable of getting on base and sparking a rally.
N.C. State has the 10th most doubles collegiately, led by McLain who has reached second base 19 times this season. Seven of the nine Wolfpack starters have double-digit doubles on the year.
Indiana will need to put runs on the board to keep pace with North Carolina State’s flourishing offense.
That will be hard to do with projected starting pitcher Johnny Piedmonte on the mound for the Wolfpack. The redshirt senior RHP boasts a 1.87 ERA, the 18th best among all collegiate pitchers. Piedmonte is also undefeated this season with a 7-0 record.
However, while Piedmonte has not lost a game, he does allow 6.71 hits per nine innings pitched. Piedmonte also has recorded five or more strikeouts in only three of his 13 appearances.
Piedmonte has a good relief pitcher behind him in Joe O’Donnell. O’Donnell has the most saves for the Wolfpack this season, and also has 53 strikeouts in his 42 1/3 innings pitched.
Looking to avoid heartbreak
N.C. State has made the NCAA Tournament field for the third year in a row, but the previous two years have not gone well for the Wolfpack.
In 2015, N.C. State led the regional finals 8-1 in the eighth inning before Texas Christian came back to eliminate the Wolfpack with a 9-8 win in 10 innings.
The following year, eventual College World Series champion Coastal Carolina rallied with one out left to pull off a 7-5 win in the regional finals, eliminating N.C. State.
All-session tickets covering all six or seven games range from $55 to $85 and are on sale now.
Single-session tickets, $10 or $15, went on sale Thursday morning. Each game is one session, and the stadium will be cleared between games.
Any remaining tickets will be sold at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Friday.
Chris Leach: 859-231-1326, @chrisleach250
NCAA Lexington Regional
Game 1: Kentucky (39-20) vs. Ohio (31-26), Noon (ESPNU)
Game 2: Indiana (33-22-2) vs. North Carolina State (34-23), 7 p.m. (WatchESPN.com)
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, Noon (Watch ESPN.com)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m. (WatchESPN.com)
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m. (Watch ESPN.com)
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m. (WatchESPN.com)
Game 7: If necessary, same teams as in Game 6, 7 p.m. (WatchESPN.com)