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NC State’s Eli Serrano III fulfills childhood dream by powering Pack to Omaha

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

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ATHENS, Ga. — NC State sophomore outfielder Eli Serrano III knew he had a chance to rob a shallow home run at Georgia’s Foley Field. He just needed to find the wall. 

In the pivotal Game 3 matchup with the winner going to the Men’s College World Series, Serrano had a beat on Georgia second baseman Slate Alford’s long fly ball in the seventh inning. He retreated back tracking the ball, while also finding the foam padding of the outfield fence.  

Soon enough, Serrano used his 6-foot-5 frame to reach up and somehow glove Alford’s bid for a game-tying three-run homer. A foot taller, and the score would have been knotted up and the momentum would have shifted towards the home team and its sold out crowd. 

Serrano found it in his glove and it added to his stellar night for the Wolfpack as NC State held on for an 8-5 win Monday night to punch its ticket to Omaha.

“It was crazy,” Serrano said of his catch. “I kind of blacked out, honestly.”

While Serrano ended up making the game-ending catch — a Tre Phelps fly out to center — his score-saving grab was the play that he would remember the most, even though he dominated at the plate, too. 

The Fuquay-Varina, N.C., native led the Wolfpack with a 3-for-4 night at the plate, including a leadoff double to open the game and a first-pitch solo homer in the sixth inning in addition to his stout outfield defense. 

Serrano, who is draft eligible this summer, wasn’t trying to do too much in the batter’s box against Georgia. But as the leadoff man in the Wolfpack’s order, he helped set the tone with three hits in his first three trips to the plate. 

“It was just trying to do everything we can, really,” Serrano said. “You very little get those options to go to Omaha. It was just about winning and what I can do to give my team the best opportunity to win.”

Serrano’s ability paid off in guiding the Pack past the Bulldogs and their raucous crowd. But this moment was born through watching NC State get sent home early in 2021 after positive COVID-19 cases within the program were confirmed. Serrano was committed to the team at the time, ready to join them the following fall. 

That lit a new fire under Serrano by the time he arrived in Raleigh.

“Coming back with these guys, last year they took me in under their wing when I got here after they got their hearts broken in Omaha. It was like, ‘Alright, what can we do next? How can we improve this team and get this team on the same page to get there again?’ I think that’s what NC State is about. It’s family, it’s team chemistry. It’s blue-collar. It’s everything you could want to be the toughest you can be to get to Omaha.”

Serrano has been one of NC State’s best bats in the NCAA Tournament, going 10-for-26 with four homers, four RBI and nine runs scored in six games.

After he dreamt of playing in Omaha as a child, Serrano has been key in helping get the Pack back there for the second time in four years. And it surpassed his expectations along the way.

“It’s more than what you can dream of, honestly,” Serrano said. “I’m excited for Omaha. I’m excited for this team. It’s awesome. … Hopefully we get that national championship. That would be even better than this. But until then, this is it.”

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