Sunday was beyond frustrating.
After knocking off Georgia Tech 8-1 in Saturday's ACC Tournament Semifinal, I was optimistic. I believed this was the year that State changed the narrative.
I was wrong.
For those of you who don't know, State's Baseball team dropped a 1-0 decision to Duke on Sunday afternoon in the ACC Championship Game, the Wolfpack's first opportunity to win a football, men's basketball, or baseball conference championship since 1992.
For reference, I'm about to start my sophomore year at State this fall. I was born in 2001.
State Baseball has had more than enough chances to win either regular season of tournament championships, but they've come up short every time. Most notably, my memories goes back to the 2010 and 2015 ACC Championship Games against Florida State.
In 2010, State led the Seminoles 3-2 through six innings, but gave up six runs in the bottom half of the seventh and eighth, resulting in an 8-3 loss in a game best remembered by former Wolfpack catcher Chris Schaeffer being trucked by a Florida State runner, leading to Schaeffer being taken to the hospital.
In 2015, after winning games against Notre Dame, Miami, and Virginia to earn a spot in the title game, State lost 6-2 to the 'Noles, collecting just five hits over nine innings.
2021 was State's chance.
The Wolfpack's 3-2 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday landed State in the semifinals, and the win over Georgia Tech landed the Pack in the finals. While Duke was (and is) hot as a bottle rocket in July, this was one of the lesser-talented teams State had met in the Championship Game over its last few tournament runs. There were plenty of reasons to believe that this was FINALLY the year for NC State Baseball.
However, a dead offense and multiple key mistakes, including Austin Murr fumbling a chance to tie things up on a should've-been sacrifice fly, and Terrell Tatum being unable to get a bunt down in the ninth inning to move Jonny Butler to second base, were too much for the Wolfpack to overcome, dropping the title game to Duke 1-0.
Chris Pollard is a great coach, and the Blue Devils are playing extremely well. But quite frankly, it's embarrassing that Duke has a conference title in baseball more recently than the Wolfpack.
Did you watch the game Sunday? If so, did you notice the crowd? State fans outnumbered Duke fans 10-1!
When State typically plays Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (where Duke plays a large number of their home games), there are more Wolfpackers than Blue Devils in attendance.
Shoot, when State last played at Duke's on-campus facility (Jack Combs Field) in 2018, which was the last three-game series between the two schools, the crowd was essentially half-and-half!
That's why this was frustrating. We're a better baseball fan base than Duke. We're a better baseball program than Duke. Quite honestly, I believe we have a better baseball team than Duke.
Those are obviously all my opinions, and I'm sure the (very few) Duke fans who care about baseball may offer some interesting rebuttals. However, I'm not sure you could do much to convince me otherwise.
Onto The Next: The NCAA Tournament
At the end of the day, Sunday is a lost cause. I'm still mad about it, but it's over. But fortunately, State's season isn't. At noon on Monday, the NCAA released the 2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket, in which State landed in the Ruston Regional.
Louisiana Tech is hosting the four-team double elimination portion of the tournament, and the Bulldogs have a strong squad.
Louisiana Tech, seeded sixteenth overall, currently sits at 40-18 on the season, having most recently lost in extra innings to eleventh-seeded Old Dominion in the Conference USA Championship Game. The group dubbed the "Diamond Dogs" are a solid club, but are certainly beatable.
Louisiana Tech lost both matchups against a less-than-stellar LSU team, and have lost all three games to Old Dominion at this point in time.
The Bulldogs will take on the Rider Broncos on Friday at 7PM EST, who landed in the tournament after upsetting 37-3 Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament. Rider currently sits 23-16 on the year, having not played its first game until March 20th. The Broncos are an interesting team, but I don't think they'll get by Louisiana Tech on Friday. Rider is a solid four-seed, but personally, I don't think they're nearly as scary as Wright State, Grand Canyon, or even Army.
Finally, comes the Alabama Crimson Tide, State's Friday opponent.
Most everybody was surprised that Alabama made the tournament to begin with, as their résumé wasn't exactly marketable. The 31-24 Crimson Tide's SEC series wins came over Texas A&M, Auburn, and Missouri, none of who were selected for the NCAA Tournament, with only Auburn qualifying for the SEC Tournament.
The Tide obviously hail from the nation's best baseball conference and have firepower, but are certainly beatable as well.
What All This Means for Avent
The Elliott Avent conversation is one that is had all-too-often this time of year. State hasn't advanced past a regional since 2013, and a lot of fans feel stale with the state of the baseball program as a result.
Let me begin by saying this. I'm as big of an Avent fan as you'll ever meet. His program constantly outperforms as to what his facilities should allow in terms of production, but a lack of postseason success looms large, aside from 2013.
In what is an extremely winnable regional for the Wolfpack, what will State fans say if the team comes up short? Fans are already frustrated with what happened against TCU in 2015, and Coastal Carolina in 2016, and Kentucky in 2017, and Army and Auburn in 2018, and Campbell and East Carolina in 2019. If State doesn't win this regional, it's only gonna get worse.
If they do, they'll more than likely meet Arkansas, the best team in college baseball currently, and truthfully, it ain't close. I highly doubt State can beat the Razorbacks in a super regional if they make it that far, but making it that far should be the expectation for this team.
I'll never call for Avent's head. NEVER. But plenty of people are going to do so if State doesn't win this regional. I was devastated the boys couldn't pull off an ACC Championship, mostly because I hated Avent didn't win it in what was likely his best chance yet, and possibly for a while.
Let's win this regional and at least give fans some optimism heading into supers next weekend. This is the year we change the narrative. Gotta have it.
Thanks for reading, and Go Pack!