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NC State heads into Super Regional Game 3 with veteran leadership guiding the way

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/09/24


ATHENS, Ga. — For most of this season, NC State graduate transfers Alec Makarewicz and Garrett Pennington have been the key to keeping the Wolfpack steady through adversity. 

They rose to the occasion when the Pack battled illness and injury throughout the regular season, helping keep NC State’s locker room and team as a cohesive unit. That led to the Wolfpack winning five ranked ACC series over the final two months of the season to surge into the postseason. 

Makarewicz and Pennington are the catalysts of the locker room and that’s why they joined NC State coach Elliott Avent for the postgame press conference following the Pack’s 11-2 loss to Georgia in Game 2 of the Athens Super Regional at Foley Field. 

“They joined us for one season, but as a coach you get close to players,” Avent said. “Sometimes you think you get close because you’re with them for three years, four years, five years. I’ve been with these men probably nine or 10 months and I feel like I’ve known them all my life.”

“What they’ve meant to us on the field, you can read the numbers or watch our games,” Avent continued. “What they’ve meant to us in the locker room, in the dugout and off the field is why they’re on each side of me right now.”

Once again, it will be Makarewicz and Pennington that the Wolfpack will lean on going into the winner-takes-all Game 3 against the Bulldogs on Monday.

Makarewicz, an East Carolina transfer, has played in two Super Regionals going into this year, while Pennington, who spent time at the Division II level, has plenty of postseason experience. Both of those veterans have seen this situation before, so their goal is to help keep the Wolfpack’s younger players composed and ready for the elimination game. 

For Pennington, who went 1-for-3 with a walk in the Game 2 loss, the mindset is all about keeping the elimination game as close to a normal approach as possible. 

“It’s just playing another game,” Pennington said. “You can’t think of it as a big game and start trying to step up in big moments. You could tell some things didn’t go our way today, and baseball happens, so tomorrow our goal is to just play baseball.”

The Pack’s stage will be bigger than its previous two games this weekend in its third Super Regional Game 3 under Avent. NC State lost the 2008 iteration of it at Georgia — it lost Game 1 and won Game 2 that year — while it took the series finale at Arkansas in 2021 to punch its ticket to the Men’s College World Series. 

While NC State’s veteran leadership by the pair of graduate transfers will be key, so will its experience on the mound in the win-or-go home game. The Pack is expected to start graduate right-hander Logan Whitaker, who has pitched 194 innings during his time in Raleigh. 

That experience will be crucial, but the Pack’s young bullpen also boasts exposure to high-pressure situations as the two freshmen, Cooper Consiglio and Jacob Dudan, and sophomore closer Derrick Smith have all come up in big scenarios while the team battled injury earlier this season. 

“That’s when those guys grew up the most and got to gain a lot of experience and got ready for moments like this,” Avent said. 

That will be put to the test against the Bulldogs. 

NC State hasn’t played an elimination game this postseason run since it swept the Raleigh Regional with ease last weekend. Now, it will, and both teams will be fighting for a spot in the Men’s College World Series. 

Only one team can walk away from it with more to play for and Avent thought this is what this series should look like with the quality of teams left in the field. 

“It comes down to Game 3,” Avent said, “which is what two great teams should come down to.”

Monday’s elimination game is set for either noon or 7 p.m., depending on the results of other Super Regionals around the country.

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