NC State is set to end their run of five consecutive weekend series against ranked opponents when the Wolfpack hosts Florida State this weekend. That brutal run of ACC opponents has left the Pack with just a 5-9 conference mark (tied for 5th in the Atlantic division) heading into a critical stretch of the season.
The next three weeks present NC State with a prime opportunity to right the ship and get back in contention for an NCAA Regional appearance. Weekend series against two teams with first-year head coaches (Florida State, Clemson) and one struggling non-conference foe (The Citadel), as well as a pair of midweek games against lower-ranked RPI squads (Davidson, NC A&T). A home rematch with East Carolina is also in that stretch.
The turning point has to be this evening, though, against UNCW. The Seahawks have won 10 of their last 14, including a pair of midweek triumphs over East Carolina, so this is not an easy opponent that will fold over upon first step on The Doak. UNCW can mash (six regulars sport an OPS over .925, while those with lower OPS all have OBPs of .399 or higher) and while the bullpen has had more control issues than expected, the arms are still talented. Tuesday’s projected starter, rSO RHP Ryan Calvert (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.2 IP, 7.7 BB%, 30.8 K%), is starting to return to form in his first season back from TJS.
For NC State, the good news despite the 5-9 ACC mark, the peripherals are solid. The Wolfpack rank in the top five in the conference on a per-game basis in hits, doubles, home runs, and fewest strikeouts. That tells you that the offense is capable or producing, but the timely hits just haven’t been there to push across more runs (7th in runs/game). The only glaring issue is the team ranking 10th in walks/game.
The pitching is doing it’s job, ranking in the top five in conference in ERA, opponents batting average, walks issued per game, and home runs allowed per game. The team isn’t racking up the strikeouts on a huge basis (13th per game), but that actually might be a better sign than you think. Playing essentially the toughest ACC schedule of any conference team to-date, the Pack pitchers have held their own and induced weak contact.
Defense is the area that State needs dramatic improvement. Level of competition doesn’t cause mental blunders or physical miscues. If the Pack have any hope of making a run back to the postseason for the first time since the magical CWS run in 2021, it’s going to need some of the same defensive fortitude that the 2021 Pack possessed. Minus that, the above hitting and pitching prowess may all be for naught.
It all has to start Tuesday, though.