According to Warren Nolan, NC State played the nation's second toughest schedule. The NCAA rewarded the Pack by selecting them as a regional host despite a late season swoon that resulted in a W-L record (35-20) that doesn't jump off the page. On the other hand, the Pack's first regional opponent, the Naval Academy, comes in with a gaudy 42-14-1 mark. That record, and NC State's injury and inconsistency issues in the starting rotation, would make the Midshipmen appear to be candidates to spring an upset in Friday's 7 p.m. regional opener at the Doak.
Navy outscored its opponents by 170 runs on the season thanks to a stingy pitching staff that amassed a 2.78 ERA, good for fourth in the nation. State will almost certainly see Navy staff ace Luke Gillingham, who is 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA. The senior lefty was even better a year ago, when he went 8-1 with a 1.19 ERA and 111 strikeouts to just 14 walks in 83.1 innings pitched. Opponents batted just .151 off Gillingham on his way to being named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy. This year, Gillingham has fanned just a shade under a batter per inning and walked a few more but still promises to be tough on a Pack lineup that depends a lot on lefties Preston Palmeiro, Brock Deatherage, Brett Kinneman, and Stephen Pitarra.
If the Midshipmen require relief (and that's no sure thing considering Gillingham completed eight of his 13 starts), Sam Sorenson enters the regional with six saves, a 1.77 ERA, and 40/9 K/BB ratio in 24 appearances.
With seven regulars batting over .300, the Midshipmen are no slouches when it comes to swinging it. There's not much power to speak of - Leland Saile leads the team with just four long balls - but Navy will put the ball in play. The Patriot League champions fanned just 260 times on the season compared to 416 whiffs by their opponents. Saile triple slashed a ridiculous .392/.440/.663 and Robert Currie batted .353 and was a perfect 12-for-12 in the stolen base department.
If all of the above seems to impend doom, consider the following: Navy compiled its record and stats against exactly ZERO top 50 RPI opponents (according, again, to Warren Nolan). Let's pan out a bit. Huh, would you look at that. Turns out Navy compiled its record and stats against exactly ZERO top 100 RPI opponents. That's right, folks; Navy has a 0-0 record against top 100 teams and the 282nd "toughest" schedule in all the land. By comparison, NC State played 45 games against top 100 teams. The Pack were 5-0 against teams ranked 101-200; the Mids were 11-7.
Navy looks scary on paper and is certainly capable of springing an upset behind a seasoned senior lefty with Gillingham's credentials, but really the Mids are pretty much a complete unknown against this level of competition. You have to go back to 2014 to find a game they played against anything resembling an NCAA caliber P5 opponent, and that was an 11-4 loss to Maryland. Navy is 1-10 in its last 11 NCAA tournament games with that lone win coming all the way back in 2002. Odds are that the Pack add another loss to Navy's ledger on Friday night, but with State's struggles in the starting rotation, my guess is it won't be a win without drama.