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NC State to clash with Florida in College World Series elimination game

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/16/24


OMAHA, Neb. — NC State is in uncharted territory. The Wolfpack, which has been to the College World Series twice before under Elliott Avent, dropped its first game against Kentucky on Saturday and now has to come through the loser’s bracket to reach the championship series. 

The Pack had previously won each of its openers in 2013 and 2021, but this time around, NC State fell via a walk-off. Now, with its season on the line for the foreseeable future, the Wolfpack will square off with Florida in an elimination game Monday at 2 p.m. ET at Charles Schwab Field. 

NC State knows it has an uphill climb, but it still believes it can run the table in the loser’s bracket to reach the final three games of the tournament. 

“We’ve got our work cut out,” Avent said Sunday afternoon after the Wolfpack’s practice. “It’s not easy to win this thing [even] if we won yesterday’s game. Is it harder? You bet. But somebody’s gotta beat you. Until we get beat, we’re still in this thing. As long as we’re in this thing, we can win this thing.”

The Wolfpack played with its back against the wall in the Athens Super Regional, and it found a way to win the finale to punch its ticket to Omaha. As NC State sits in the same scenario yet again, the team’s mindset has not changed. 

NC State graduate first baseman Garrett Pennington, who played in a Division II national championship game, wants the team to treat this game as if it were any other game. Just as the Pack has done to win 16 of its last 21 games it has played. 

“Honestly, it’s just another ball game,” Pennington said. “We’re going to take it a game at a time, just like we have the whole season. We’re not going to think ahead. It’s the same situation that we were in a game ago. It’s just another game. … Just because it’s the World Series doesn’t mean the effort level changes, it’s the same.”

Florida, the lone unseeded team in the College World Series, is the Wolfpack’s next opponent. The Gators lost 3-2 to No. 4 Texas A&M on Saturday night, which was preceded by a four-hour rain delay. 

NC State’s latest opponent emerged through the Stillwater Regional’s loser bracket, where it had to beat No. 16 Oklahoma State twice in two days to move into the Super Regional round. It was able to do that and it made quick work of No. 3 Clemson in two games to move to the College World Series. 

The Gators are led by two-way star Jac Caglianone, who leads the team with a .414 average, 33 home runs and 68 RBI this spring. He will also start on the mound against the Wolfpack, where he boasts a 5-2 record, 4.71 ERA with 82 strikeouts and 48 walks this season. 

“Everyone’s watched what he does,” NC State junior catcher Jacob Cozart said of Caglianone. “What he does is amazing. He’s good, so we’re just going to grind out at-bats like we always do.”

NC State’s approach isn’t expected to change against Caglianone. The Wolfpack have tried to hit line drives, which are imperative when the wind is blowing in at Charles Schwab Field. That will be no different with the Gators on the other side of the diamond. 

The Pack’s game against Florida will mark its fourth against an SEC opponent. It beat South Carolina in the regional before it took down Georgia in the Super Regional round. Now, it’s the Gators. 

Cozart, though, seemed excited to play another team from the league that sent the most squads to the NCAA Tournament this spring. 

“I wouldn’t want to have it any other way,” Cozart said. “I just want to play the best and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Now, NC State has a chance to send another SEC team home earlier than they expected. Avent knows his team is in high spirits going into the elimination game, which will likely be a war on the field.

“They don’t think they’re going home,” Avent said. “They don’t think anybody can beat them. There’s obviously seven teams here that feel differently.”

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