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NC State powers to College World Series despite adversity-filled season 

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/10/24


ATHENS, Ga. — NC State coach Elliott Avent has kept a menu for The Drover, a steakhouse in Omaha, in his office as a reminder of his first stop after getting back to the Men’s College World Series would be. 

But for the past few weeks, that menu hasn’t been confined to the darkness of his desk. Instead, the 28th-year skipper put it inside the Wolfpack locker room. It served as a motivator for his squad, who heard a lot about the restaurant’s whiskey steaks. 

Now, they’ll be able to try them out. The Wolfpack punched its ticket to the Men’s College World Series after it beat No. 7 Georgia 8-4 in the Athens Super Regional on Monday night at Foley Field. 

The Drover, located just over eight miles from Charles Schwab Field, will likely be the Pack’s first stop as a team later this week. 

“It might be the location, I’m not a foodie, that’s coach [Chris] Hart,” Avent said. “I like all food, especially southern country food. But The Drover, it’s not just the location, it’s the finest restaurant that I’ve eaten at.”

Though Avent lauded the restaurant he’s been looking forward to returning to, the Pack’s third trip in his tenure was the most important to him. 

Especially with the roster that he had this year. 

It’s the second trip to college baseball’s pinnacle stage in the last four years for the Pack, but this one means more with six players from the 2021 pandemic-shortened trip to the event on this year’s squad. That touched Avent the most.

“I’m so proud of this ball club,” Avent said. “Everything I’ve thought about all year, not that it ever gets old going to Omaha, yes I want to go again. … I wanted these guys to go so bad. It’s some of their last chance.”

NC State is going back to Omaha, and the Wolfpack finally can see the fruits of its labor after pushing through illness and injury that left NC State shorthanded at times this season. 

Pack pitchers Sam Highfill and Logan Whitaker, who was the starter Monday night, battled illness this year, including the latter losing 30 pounds in April. NC State also lost pitchers Matt Willadsen and Shane Van Dam to torn UCLs and outfielder Josh Hogue broke his leg in an outfield collision. 

Though the team had an uphill climb, it managed to find ways to preserve. The Super Regional victory was the top of the mountain top to this point of the season. 

“As a team we kept pushing, kept being resilient through each and every game,” said sophomore outfielder Eli Serrano III, who paced the team with a 3-for-4 day, including a double and a home run. “Everything that’s happened to us — we have guys that went down throughout the year, it was playing for them and the other guys that don’t get another chance.”

It was a full team effort this weekend against Georgia, which boasted a power-hitting lineup that could hit with anyone in the country. NC State held its opponent to just one run Saturday before the Bulldogs blitzed the Pack on Sunday in an 11-2 result. But the team stuck together and pulled through with the win to clinch the trip to Omaha. 

For Avent, the run to the College World Series has been a ride of a lifetime in his third trip to it in his career. 

“They’ve been so unbelievable the last 10 weeks of the season,” Avent said. “Ever since we went to Clemson, they’ve been as good a team as you can be. They do things the right way. They play hard. They run hard all the time. And they do things the way they’re supposed to do it on and off the field.”

The Wolfpack handled itself with a business attitude through the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament, and that turned into being one of the last eight teams left in college baseball. 

Whitaker, who was injured during the 2021 run to the College World Series, noted how exciting this run has been, but maintained that motivated mindset looking for the program’s first national championship. 

“It’s a surreal experience,” Whitaker said. “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.”

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