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NC State to face aggressive Kentucky to open College World Series

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/14/24

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OMAHA, Neb. — NC State is back in Omaha for the first time since 2021, and it will have to continue its tour through the SEC if it wants to reach the championship series next weekend. 

The Wolfpack, which downed South Carolina in the Raleigh Regional and took two of three from Georgia in the Super Regionals to reach the College World Series, is surrounded by three more SEC teams in its bracket: No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Texas A&M and Florida. 

NC State, the No. 10 national seed, will see the Wildcats to open both teams’ stays in Omaha on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Charles Schwab Field. 

This weekend’s meeting will mark the eighth all-time game between NC State and Kentucky. The Wildcats own the last two wins, both of which game in the 2017 Lexington Regional, ending the Wolfpack’s season. 

This season, Kentucky has yet to lose in the NCAA Tournament to this point, and it plays a unique brand of baseball. In an era where most teams focus on hitting home runs, the Wildcats like to use their speed to exploit opposing defenses. 

The Wildcats, which are making their first College World Series appearance in program history, have stolen 118 bases this season on 149 attempts as small ball is Kentucky’s calling card. Emilien Pitre leads Kentucky with 25 stolen bases, while Ryan Waldschmidt has 24 this season and Devin Burkes has 19.

Like NC State used it to put pressure on Georgia’s defense in the opening game of the Super Regional, Kentucky will try to force the Pack to commit errors. 

If that happens, the Wildcats are more than capable of making the opposing team pay for it. That’s where the Wolfpack is looking to minimize the Wildcats’ ability of getting its offense rolling. 

“Yeah, they’re a very talented team, very athletic, a ton of good players, a ton of good pitchers,” said NC State right-hander Sam Highfill, who is expected to earn the start against Kentucky. “You just have to play fundamental baseball. If they’re going to try and give you outs, then you have to be able to take them and not compound mistakes because that’s what those offenses live on. We just have to do our best to make the fundamental plays.”

Fundamentals have been key in the Wolfpack’s run through the postseason. NC State only has two errors, both of which came against Duke in the ACC Tournament. Other than that, the Pack has played clean defense to avoid beating itself. 

That’s the goal against Kentucky, too. 

“We can’t really try to do too much,” NC State graduate third baseman Alec Makarewicz said. “Make the routine plays, and just go out there and play the game.”

NC State is going to try to keep it simple, but at this point in the year, the Wolfpack have to lean on what it had done all season. Pack coach Elliott Avent said this isn’t a time to “prepare” for what another team does. 

Either a team is ready by this point in the season or it is not. 

“You can’t prepare,” Avent said.  “If you have to prepare for what a team does right now, you’re not going to be ready. You prepare for that in the fall and January, February, and all year long. If you’re not prepared for the style of baseball that Kentucky plays now, you’re not going to get prepared this week. So I think we catch the baseball. I think we’re pretty good defensively. I think we hold runners pretty good. I think we’ve got some experience. We may not be ready, but we’ll find out.” 

Broadcast details

TV: ESPN
First pitch: 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT
TV Talent: Karl Ravech (play-by-play), Eduardo Perez (analyst), Ben McDonald (analyst), Dani Wexelman (reporter)

Radio: 88.1 & 99.9
Talent: Andrew Sanders (play-by-play)

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