With the calendar getting ready to turn over to February and the 2022 baseball season quickly approaching, let’s take a look at the NC State Wolfpack team that will take the field this season. We’ll attempt to do this in a four-part series again (yeah, I came up short one part last year):
- In Part I of this series, we’ll take a look back at the 2021 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
- Part II will be a look at the returnees from that 2021 team.
- Part III will look at the newcomers for 2022.
- Part IV will take a look at the schedule and opponents for the Wolfpack this season.
So let’s get started!
2021 Season Review
First, let’s take a look back at the 2021 season so we can give ourselves a little perspective on the season to come.
How did things go in 2021?
Really bad, then really good, then really really really good, then abruptly awful.
All told, very good.
By sunset on Sunday, March 21, 2021, the season was basically over for NC State. The team was 4-9 overall, an atrocious 1-8 in ACC play, and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Outside of a pair of season opening wins over a middling Davidson squad, the Wolfpack looked completely out of sorts. The starting rotation looked shaky at best, the bullpen was basically a kerosene filled fire extinguisher, and the offense struggled to find runs and clutch hits.
Then something kind of crazy happened. The season turned around, starting with an unlikely hero: Terrell Tatum.
In a midweek road game versus a more than respectable UNCW squad, the Pack found themselves down 2-0 in the 3rd inning thanks to a pair of 2nd inning home runs surrendered to the seabirds. UNCW’s best hitter, Brooks Baldwin, squared up the first pitch of the bottom of the 3rd inning and sent it out over the fence in left field. Terrell Tatum, in what oddly ended up being his last outfield appearance in a Wolfpack uniform, found the wall, timed his jump, and robbed the would-be home run.
Add it to the highlight reel #SCTop10 | @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/6S7cGbx2Ez— #Pack9 ⚾️ (@NCStateBaseball) March 24, 2021
In the top half of the next inning, Tatum hit a two-out RBI triple to get State on the board, and an inning later the Pack would take the lead. State went on to win 5-3 in a game that saw a quality start, four innings of scoreless relief from the bullpen, and offensive production - and clutch hitting - up and down the lineup. It was a complete team effort in a win, although it didn’t really do much to move the needle at the time considering it was a non-conference game and that the team was still sitting at 1-8 in the ACC. Heck, even I gave it the old “olé” postgame treatment.
On the horizon that weekend was a Top 25 North Carolina squad coming off a mid-week win over a Top 10 East Carolina team. Again, something kind of crazy happened. The season continued it’s 180 thanks to a shrewd coaching move by Elliott Avent and a gutsy performance by a veteran pitcher.
First, Avent (and Pitching Coach Clint Chrysler) moved junior LHP Evan Justice out of the starting rotation and to the bullpen, where he would take over as the closer. Second, Avent (and Chrysler) moved junior RHP Reid Johnston back into starting rotation, a familiar role for the veteran righty. Johnston responded by tossing a complete game victory over the hated rivals, sparking a three-game sweep of the boys in gag-worthy blue.
Not everything was smooth sailing from there, but the key changes were made and the team not only had confidence, but had displayed their real potential.
Starting with that win over UNCW, NC State went 33-10 the remainder of the year, including an 18-6 mark in the ACC. The effort wasn’t quite good enough to catch Notre Dame for the Atlantic Division title, and the Wolfpack lost in excruciating fashion in the ACC Tournament Title Game.
State entered the NCAA Tournament as the #2 seed in the Ruston Regional, hosted by Louisiana Tech. The Pack cruised right through the regional, setting themselves for another trip down south to go into the Hog’s nest and take on top overall seed and #1 ranked Arkansas in the Super Regional.
After State got blitzed 21-2 in the opener, it seemed the shine had worn off the Wolfpack’s season and all that was left was a quick bow and a hurried exit stage left. That wasn’t to be.
The Wolfpack put in a workman-like performance in Game Two to send the Super Regional to a decisive Game Three. (By the way, the same day as the Game Two win, Elly Henes won the National Championship in the 5000M... that should have been an omen.)
Game Three of the Supers saw the Pack squaring off with the 2021 Golden Spikes Award (that’s college baseball’s Heisman Trophy, for those of y’all unaware) winner Kevin Kopps. It was a tight game. The Pack took a 2-1 lead in the 3rd inning on a Jonny Butler 2-run homer, but the game entered the 9th inning tied at 2-2 and with Kopps still on the mound and having only allowed one man to reach scoring position since that 3rd inning. Jose Torres didn’t care:
T9 | OH MY DEAR GOD JOSE TORRES HITS THE GO-AHEAD BOMB!!!— #Pack9 ⚾️ (@NCStateBaseball) June 14, 2021
NCSU 3, ARK 2 pic.twitter.com/J7j2QqXAmf
Evan Justice slammed the door and the Wolfpack were off to Omaha for just the third time in school history!
The team entered Omaha as the favorite... to get knocked out immediately. Stuck in a bracket with Vanderbilt, Arizona, and Stanford, the Wolfpack had the lowest projected odds of winning it all.
State opened with a good-buddy win against Stanford. They followed it up with an intense game against Vanderbilt and, arguably, the best pitcher in college baseball that year, Jack Leiter. Terrell Tatum didn’t care:
TATER TATUM❗️ pic.twitter.com/WXdct7tLKj— #Pack9 ⚾️ (@NCStateBaseball) June 22, 2021
The Wolfpack won 1-0 as Sam Highfill went toe-to-toe with Leiter and Evan Justice again shut down any thoughts of late inning nonsense.
At that point, NC State had a 59.9% chance of winning the whole dang thing.
Unfortunately, some other stuff happened. Blame Avent, blame the players, blame the NCAA and their complete lack of actually caring about the players enough to put in place meaningful and worthwhile quarantine and testing methods and procedures (*ding*ding*ding*), but it all sucked. The Pack9 turned into the #Pack13 and still almost knocked off Kumar Rocker and Vanderbilt despite being down four starters from the lineup and sending a freshman with 8.2 innings under his belt and nary a start to the bump.
With an elimination game set up for the following day between Vanderbilt and NC State, the NCAA cowardly called it a no-contest in the wee hours of the morning (WarrenNolan lists it correctly as “canceled”), immediately ending the Wolfpack’s season and taking away the feel-good story of the 2021 College World Series, as well as
probably the best team in the event.
What the NCAA can’t take away is the moments that the 2021 Wolfpack created during the season. The wrought nerves followed by inexplicable elation with every subsequent State victory on the path to Omaha and within the walls of TD Ameritrade Park. The 2021 Wolfpack team and the fans that followed them along the way will forever hold those memories and feelings in their hearts, completely separated from bureaucratic nonsense and NCAA fumbling.
That run also sets up what is expected to be a great 2022 season... but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
Who’s gone from the 2021 squad?
Eight 2021 MLB Draft picks, which includes five position players (C, 1B, SS, LF, CF), the DH, the Friday starting pitcher, and the closer. Also the third baseman signed an undrafted free agent deal. All told, 304 of the 385 runs that crossed the plate for the Wolfpack in 2021 have now moved on to professional baseball, accompanied by 156.1 combined innings tossed by a guy who tied for the team lead in wins (9) and a guy who led the team in saves (13).
Below is a list of all those in the program who have left Raleigh this offseason.
- Cameron Arnold - FR - LHP
- Bryce Behmer - FR - C
- Logan Bender - JR - RHP
- Jonny Butler - JR - LF
- Danny Carnazzo - rJR - C
- Cameron Cotter - rSO - RHP
- Dalton Feeney - rJR - RHP (RP)
- Coby Ingle - FR - RHP
- Reid Johnston - JR - RHP (SP)
- Evan Justice - JR - LHP (CL)
- Tyler McDonough - SO - CF
- Vojtech Mensik - SO - 3B
- Austin Murr - JR - 1B
- Austin Pace - FR - RHP
- Terrell Tatum - JR - DH/OF
- Thayer Thomas - rSO - OF
- Jose Torres - FR - SS
- Luca Tresh - SO - C
- Joey Holcomb - Assistant Coach
(Starters and key contributors in bold)
Okay, so first things first. That’s seven starters out of the lineup. No doubt it’s going to be tough to replace. When you look back at last year’s preview and who left, it’s no surprise that the team had the depth to eventually reach the CWS. We lamented over the loss of two high-end players in Patrick Bailey and Nick Swiney, but the vast majority of the team’s prior year production returned, including basically an entire starting lineup. Several younger arms turned into studs as the season went on, veteran arms became the reliable weapons the team needed, and the squad blossomed into one of the best to ever don the Red and White.
College baseball rosters are 35 players max. Due to covid exemptions, 2021 rosters were allowed to be larger than that based on eligible seniors who were given an extra year of eligibility. State opened 2021 with a 38-man roster, which was whittled down to 36 after some off-the-field shenanigans prompted a couple bootings. All that to say, State is down half of that 36-man roster. That’s a ton of turnover in a single year, especially given the number of impact players among that group of departees.
Now let’s look a bit more at each of the players who left the program after the 2021 season.
Bryce Behmer, Austin Pace, and Thayer Thomas never saw the field for the Pack in 2021. Behmer was the third string catcher who has since transferred to Wallace-Dothan CC. Pace is a 6’10 developmental player who impressed in limited opportunities in 2020, including a dominating 3.0 inning performance against Coastal Carolina. Unfortunately, injuries cost Pace the entire 2021 campaign. It’s unclear where he went, but he’s not on the 2022 roster. You know Thayer Thomas.
Cameron Cotter gutted out one last appearance in a Wolfpack uniform, an effort that may ultimately be his last for the school. Cotter’s story is one well worth this read. Injuries really derailed a career that had a lot of projection. He has been seen back on the mound, though, so hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him. He does have collegiate eligibility remaining.
Cameron Arnold and Logan Bender were both little used relief arms. Arnold was a crafty lefty who struggled to log innings on a team in desperate need of relief arms. Where he’s transferred to is unclear. Bender was a former transfer from Campbell, where he was a 2018 1st Team All-Big South selection and the 2018 Big South Freshman of the Year as a reliever. He went to Catawba Valley CC for a year where he blossomed into a dominant arm as a starting pitcher. He could never quite grasp a role with the Wolfpack, and one has to wonder if injuries popped back up (he missed his freshman year at Campbell while recovering from an arm injury). He still has a year of eligibility should he transfer elsewhere.
Danny Carnazzo was the lone JUCO addition to the 2021 squad, coming to Raleigh from College of San Mateo in California. Playing behind Luca Tresh, he got some limited opportunities behind the dish, but did get a few looks at DH early in the year. The timing was bad, as his bat didn’t immediately click and then Terrell Tatum’s got hot. Carnazzo has transferred to UC Riverside, where I’d imagine he’ll step into a prominent role immediately.
Coby Ingle was a freshman arm in 2021 who saw action in 11 games. Aside from a less-than-ideal outing at Arkansas in the Super Regional, he pitched very well, showing a lot of promise. That Arkansas appearance aside, he had 13.2 IP on the year, allowing 7 hits and 1 earned run with 13 strikeouts. It’s unclear where Ingle has transferred. He has a link to Western Carolina’s baseball program in his Twitter bio, but he’s not listed on their 2022 roster (yet).
Jonny Butler was a former JUCO transfer who went from good in 2019, to really good in the abbreviated 2020 season, to 1st Team All-ACC and 2nd Team All-American in 2021. The .376/.452/.663 line he put up with 12 2B, 14 HR, and 16 SB is going to be next to impossible to replace, as will be his defensive and lineup flexibility. In the NCAA tournament alone, he posted 12 RBI in nine games. For his three-year career, Butler posted a line of .313/.408/.491 with 26 2B, 6 3B, 18 HR, 130 R, 96 RBI, 78 BB, 104 K, 10 HBP, and 28-of-31 SB. Butler was taken in the 14th round of the 2021 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics.
After a brilliant prep career, Dalton Feeney came to NC State as an incredibly highly rated player with a big arm and big expectations. Unfortunately, injuries - including Tommy John Surgery that wiped out his entire second year on campus - took their toll and robbed Feeney of his power fastball. Fortunately for the Wolfpack baseball team, Feeney fought through injuries to become a reliable bullpen arm. He was second on the team in relief appearances in 2021. The 8.83 season ERA he posted was not indicative of his true abilities. When the team needed him most, he showed up, including tossing 4.0 shutout innings in the #Pack13 CWS game against Vanderbilt. For his career, Feeney was 7-4 with 8 SV and a 3.70 ERA over 59 appearances (6 starts), spanning 75.1 IP. He allowed 73 H and 41 BB while racking up 57 K.
Reid Johnston came to NC State a little unheralded as a small school player out of the NCISAA ranks. It wasn’t certain if he would be a pitcher or position player (or both) for the Pack. He never stepped foot in the batter’s box, but he became a reliable arm - especially as a starter - for State. In 2021, Johnston posted a 9-3 record with 1 SV and a 4.47 ERA over 16 appearances (12 starts) and 96.2 innings while earning 3rd Team All-ACC honors. He allowed 84 hits and 23 walks while striking out 96. For his career, he had a line of: 22-7, 5 SV, 3.93 ERA, 251.2 IP, 229 H, 69 BB, 227 K. Johnston was drafted in the 19th round by the Cleveland Indians/Guardians.
Evan Justice was basically the 2021 NC State bullpen. After getting a look in the starting rotation for the first four weeks of the season, Justice moved back to the bullpen and into the closer role for the Wolfpack. He responded to an absurd degree. From that point on, he posted this line: 4-0, 13 SV, 1.85 ERA, 43.2 IP, 23 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 12 BB, 52 K. State lost just one of the 20 games he appeared in as a reliever. For his efforts, Justice was named a 3rd Team All-ACC player and a 3rd Team All-American. He was drafted in the 5th round by the Colorado Rockies. For his career, Justice posted a line of: 11-2, 13 SV, 4.71 ERA, 133.2 IP, 110 H, 63 BB, 147 K.
Moeller High School has been good to NC State over the years, and if they keep producing players like Tyler McDonough, I hope they continue sending kids down to Raleigh. The 3rd round pick of the Boston Red Sox earned 2nd Team All-ACC honors after each of his full seasons with the Wolfpack, and also took home Freshman All-American honors (2019) and 3rd Team All-American honors (2021). For his career, McDonough posted a line of .332/.414/.540 with 39 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR, 113 R, 108 RBI, 73 BB, 98 K, 6 HBP, and 30-of-36 SB. In 2021, McDonough posted multi-hit efforts in 25-of-55 games. His defensive prowess and versatility were also phenomenal, allowing the Pack to put their best lineup on the field every game.
When NC State signed a pair of players from the Czech Republic National Team in 2019, many expected the big-hitting oufielder to be the big contributor, not the smaller infielder. Thankfully, that smaller infielder, Vojtech Mensik, hung around to handle the hot corner for arguably the best Pack9 team ever. Mensik’s numbers - offensively or defensively - don’t pop off the paper, but anyone who watched NC State over the last three years can appreciate just how good his glove was and how timely his bat could be. For his career, Mensik had a line of .245/.334/.375, 16 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 67 R, 47 RBI, 40 BB, 106 K, 9 HBP, 22-of-25 SB. Mensik signed a UDFA deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
Seeing a first baseman batting leadoff is one of those oddities you typically don’t see past the high school level, but that’s what NC State has been doing the last two seasons. When you have a player with the eye, discipline, and bat control of Austin Murr, you put him as your table-setter as often as possible. Murr had the unenviable job of replacing Evan Edwards as the Wolfpack’s first baseman, and although he did it in a much different way, Murr produced at a high level to minimize the impact of that transition. For his Wolfpack career, he produced a line of: .316/.399/.531, 23 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 75 R, 46 RBI, 37 BB, 48 K, 6 HBP, 11-of-13 SB. Murr was drafted in the 6th round by the Detroit Tigers, where he had a phenomenal first year as a pro.
For the first two years of his career, Terrell Tatum would flash potential and then follow it up with an over-aggressive approach that made you think it would be potential unrealized when all was said and done. Then in the abbreviated 2020 season, Tatum looked like a different player, but the question was whether it was a small sample size blip or if he was a different hitter. 2021 answered that - and with authority. In earning 1st Team All-ACC accolades, Tatum posted a line of .317/.423/.543, 2 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 37 R, 36 RBI, 33 BB, 68 K, 2 HBP, 16-of-18 SB. For his career, Tatum produced to a line of: .279/.404/.429, 8 2B, 4 3B, 14 HR, 86 R, 63 RBI, 80 BB, 160 K, 3 HBP, 38-of-42 SB. Of course, Tatum has the signature moment that all baseball players are enviable of, a mammoth, eventual game-winning home run off all-everything Jack Leiter in Omaha. That bat flip... chef’s kiss
I mentioned before that Murr had to follow Edwards at first base, and that was no small task. Well, what then do you say about Jose Torres having to follow the line of Joe Dunand and Will Wilson at shortstop? Torres came to NC State highly touted, with a reputation of being a glove-first player. The question was whether or not he could hit well enough to have a meaningful offensive impact. He would leave no doubt there. In two seasons, Torres his .300/.349/.533 with 15 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 42 R, 57 RBI, 16 BB, 59 K, 5 HBP, and 7-of-8 on SB. Torres earned Freshman All-American honors in 2020 and 1st Team All-ACC honors in 2021. He was drafted in the 3rd round by the Cincinnati Reds, where he impressed in his first foray into pro ball.
Okay, so if Murr had to follow Edwards at first base, and Torres had to follow Dunand and Wilson at SS, then what do you say about Luca Tresh having to follow Patrick Bailey, Andrew Knizner, and Brett Austin at catcher? I guess you can say he had his hands full. And that State has been spoiled with high-end talent up and down the roster. Tresh was basically the opposite of Torres, where the question was whether or not his defense would hold up well enough to allow him to stay behind the plate long term. His raw defensive numbers don’t jump out, but Tresh was a workhorse catcher for State in 2021, catching dang near every inning. His offense suffered as a result, but he still came up with some huge hits while posting a .231/.310/.476 line with 9 2B, 15 HR, 41 R, and 43 RBI. Among those huge hits was a walk-off home run against his home-state squad, FSU. For his career, Tresh posted a line of .251/.339/.512, 14 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 64 R, 69 RBI, 41 BB, 106 K, 6 HBP, 2-of-2 SB. The offensive slip in 2021 dropped Tresh to a 17th round pick, but the Kansas City Royals threw 4th/5th round money at him to get him to sign.
Joey Holcomb left Raleigh during the offseason to head down the road to Buies Creek and take over as Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator for the Campbell Camels. While at State, Holcomb worked defensively with the catchers and outfielders, as well as assisting with all hitters. He has been replaced on the coaching staff in 2022 by former Wolfpack standout catcher Brett Austin.