“Never give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Since these famous seven words were spoken by Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards, there may not be an NC State team to embody them better than this 2021 baseball product. I certainly can’t think of one.
“I guess the silver lining is I don’t have to stress about the baseball postseason this year.”
This quote, which is definitely not as good as the one above, was mine from shortly after NC State finished getting swept off its own field by Louisville, its eighth ACC loss in the first nine contests. It wasn’t getting any easier either. Five of the Pack’s remaining eight ACC series were against top 20 teams.
But who cares about all that? You can’t go back and unlose those games. You can only find a way to win the ones ahead of you, and that’s what NC State did any way that it could. It posted a 12-3 record with three sweeps in the aforementioned series, starting with a sweep in Chapel Hill.
Of course, it was this week’s Super Regional matchup with Arkansas that really hammered home just how resilient and special this group actually is. It’s hard for the odds to stack higher against you than being on the road at the number one team in the country, having lost game one 21-2 and needing to take two straight or your season ends. And it’s true that State bailed on game one part of the way through to save the pitching staff for the following days, but that decision was only made because the game was already a blowout. They showed up to Fayetteville and got their teeth kicked in, and they hadn’t even faced the SEC pitcher of the year yet.
But who cares about all that? Certainly not NC State, which would ultimately hand Kevin Kopps his first loss of the season and Arkansas its first series loss of the season despite a -17 run differential. And State would overcome late Arkansas rallies in both games to win.
Everybody’s mind hearkened back to that TCU debacle late in game two when an 8th inning Jose Torres throwing error allowed Arkansas to trim the deficit to just one run. But we all forgot that this team is this team and not that team, and mistakes and errors are things this team has simply forgotten how to care about. And who was it the very next day that hit the game-winning solo homer off the best pitcher in college baseball to send State to Omaha? It was Torres, because of course it was.
Nobody knows what will happen now. The only certainty is that anything can, because this team is made of steel, and it will scratch you and claw you and bite you if it has to. So if you’re going to try and kill NC State, you better make sure it’s dead. And even then, it’s hard to be sure.