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After turbulent college career, NC State’s Logan Whitaker is finally headed to Omaha

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/11/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — As sophomore outfielder Eli Serrano III answered a question during NC State’s press conference following the Wolfpack’s 8-5 win over No. 7 Georgia to clinch a berth to the Men’s College World Series on Monday night, coach Elliott Avent leaned over to graduate pitcher Logan Whitaker and gave him a high five. 

That small gesture was a long time coming for that duo, who have ridden a roller coaster together over the last five years in Raleigh. 

Whitaker, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, arrived at NC State in 2019, but he missed the year with an injury to his pitching elbow. That issue persisted and Whitaker ended up in a cast twice in a three-year span, missing the Wolfpack’s 2021 College World Series run. 

“Watching them go, it lit a fire under me and I wanted to get back to that,” Whitaker said. “I watched them get snubbed like that, it even ignited it a little bit more.”

But after three years of battling the injury — or the COVID-19 pandemic — that kept Whitaker off the field, he made his NC State debut in 2022. And as he returned, the Wolfpack was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. 

Finally, however, Whitaker was able to help the Pack to a regional last season, but NC State ran into a quality South Carolina squad along the way. But now, things are different. Instead of watching his teammates head to Omaha, Whitaker started the Pack’s do-or-die elimination game and was able to help get the team off to a solid start, beating Georgia 8-4 on Monday night at Foley Field. 

Whitaker, who has been dealt an uphill battle for most of his collegiate career, persevered when the odds were stacked against him again this year. He missed the entire month of April with an illness that caused him to lose 30 pounds. He managed to return with a vengeance, getting back to the starter that he was before he was sidelined again. 

The Winston-Salem, N.C., native tossed six innings in the Wolfpack’s Raleigh Regional clinching win over James Madison, sending the team to Super Regionals. It was that outing, where he conceded two runs on two hits with six strikeouts, where Whitaker felt like he was back to his old form.

“It’s been a tough little while, but today really sealed the deal for me in terms of how I’m feeling moving forward,” Whitaker said after the JMU win. “No doubt it was a tough year for a couple of but like coach says, it’s not how you start but how you finish.”

If only he knew what was in store. 

Whitaker earned the start in the Wolfpack’s Super Regional elimination game at Georgia on Monday night. The winner was set to go to the College World Series, while the loser’s season would be over. 

It wasn’t a secret that the Pack would turn to Whitaker, who had been the team’s Sunday starter all year long. He took the ball from Avent, and well, ran with it. 

Whitaker gave NC State 4.1 innings of two-run baseball with just four hits allowed and seven strikeouts — the most in a game for the righty since March 29. 

He went long enough to get the Wolfpack to its bullpen, where it handed the game off to freshman reliever Jacob Dudan and sophomore closer Derrick Smith. Those two closed the door on the Bulldogs and sent the Pack to Omaha. 

 “It’s a surreal experience,” Whitaker said with a Super Regional champions hat on. “It’s something that we’ll take it the rest of our lives. We’ll take it in stride because we know it’s a part of a big process. It’s just one step in the right direction for us to keep building on.”

While the Wolfpack is looking towards the program’s first national championship in its fourth trip to the College World Series, each time Whitaker has taken the mound has been a success in itself, in Avent’s eyes. 

The Pack’s 28th-year skipper had seen Whitaker persevere and he wasn’t going to give up on his towering starter. 

“Logan Whitaker epitomizes what every person that puts on a uniform of any kind, whether you’re playing tennis, whether you’re playing golf — I don’t care what sport you’re playing,” Avent said. “Everybody but him said there’s no way he’s going to come back from the things he had. Everybody said it can’t happen. The only person that did it was Logan Whitaker. If a person’s not going to quit on themselves, then there’s no way you can quit on that person.”

Avent didn’t relent on hope that Whitaker would be back in this moment. It paid off with a trip to Omaha, where Whitaker will finally be able to take the mound at Charles Schwab Field in the national spotlight. 

It’s been a winding road to get to this moment, but Whitaker has his chance to be with his teammates in the heartland of America. That in itself brought a wide grin to the humble Whitaker, who instead wanted to credit the entire team for getting back to college baseball’s biggest stage. 

“This year, the feeling in the fall was we’ve got some special guys. It wasn’t just the guys returning but it was the new guys that meshed well — the freshmen and the transfers. It all goes back to leading up to this point. We were all built for this point.”

The team may have been designed for a deep postseason run, but Whitaker’s mental fortitude allowed him to be an integral role in it. Now, he and the Wolfpack will board a flight Wednesday, bound for Omaha.

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