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NC State’s Garrett Pennington brings Division II College World Series experience to Omaha

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

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OMAHA, Neb. — NC State graduate first baseman Garrett Pennington made sure to look around the stadium he was standing inside while answering a question at Charles Schwab Field, the site of the Men’s College World Series, Thursday afternoon. 

The former Wichita State transfer had this on the top of the mind ever since he arrived in Raleigh through the transfer portal. In fall baseball, it was one of the first reasons why he said he wanted to join the Wolfpack. And by the time NC State made the Raleigh Regional, getting to Omaha was on the top of his mind. 

So as he was able to take in the sights following an impressive round of batting practice two days before No. 10 NC State was set to play No. 2 Kentucky to open the Pack’s stay at college baseball’s pinnacle, Pennington wore a large grin. 

Why? Well, he’s a long ways away from the freshman year version of himself at Division II Central Missouri. He redshirted that season after the COVID-19 pandemic cut it short, but by the time he saw the field with the Mules, Pennington became an impact player. 

That season, the 2021 campaign, ended with Pennington in the everyday starting lineup at the D-II College World Series at the USA Baseball complex in Cary. 

He may be three years and two schools removed from that postseason run, which culminated in a national championship game appearance, Pennington’s career will end on the biggest stage in his second trip to a College World Series.

“It’s definitely come full circle,” Pennington told TheWolfpacker.com. “To end it at Omaha instead of Cary is just mind-blowing to see the steps of where I came from. I’m proud to have all the support behind me, and honestly, it’s just unreal.”

That trip to Cary in just his second season on a college baseball roster, however, proved to be a pivotal moment in Pennington’s baseball career. He went 6-for-25 with six runs scored, two RBI and a home run in five games at the D-II College World Series in his first full season with the Mules. 

Pennington’s experience of being thrown into the fire early in his collegiate baseball career allowed him to have something to draw from during Monday’s Game 3 of the Athens Super Regional at Georgia with a trip to Omaha on the line. 

“I was saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been here,’” Pennington recalled telling himself. “Just because it’s a different level doesn’t mean the effort level changes. It’s just another game. That’s how you have to think of it.”

He did just that, and went 2-for-5 with a double, home run and three RBI to help the Pack to the College World Series for the fourth time in program history. 

But Pennigton’s time in the run to the D-II College World Series seemed to set the tone for the rest of his high-level baseball career.

“[Garrett] was learning how to be a great player,” Central Missouri coach Kyle Crookes told TheWolfpacker.com this week. “He was coming into his own. He was a threat in the lineup, he was a threat from a young age. His ability to drive the baseball, extra base hits, home runs. When you have threats in the lineup to protect other threats in the lineup, it makes it a tough lineup to pitch to.”

Now, at NC State it’s the same way. Pennington bats in the second spot behind sophomore outfielder Eli Serrano III and in front of graduate third baseman Alec Makarewicz, the Pack’s slugger in the order. 

Although the Mules lost in the national title game against Wingate, that experience has fueled Pennington. His home run, which he can still remember the exact pitch to this day — a middle away 93 mph fastball that he went backside with in a tough park to leave the yard — was key in that.

“That’s a lifetime [memory] you live for, no matter what level you are,” Pennington said. 

Pennington has a new chance to create another lasting memory in Omaha this week. While he’s been on this stage before one level lower, Pennington can finally check off that goal that Robinson helped sell him on through the transfer portal. 

“This is everything I ever dreamed of,” Pennington said. “You can’t ask for a better ending to a college season and career than ending it here in Omaha. It’s just unreal from the start of fall to now where we’re at, none of us would have ever expected it, even though it was the goal. But there’s eight teams left playing out of 300 so it’s pretty cool to have this opportunity to be here.”

Pennington has come a long way since Central Missouri, where he hit .377 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI during his three-year there, but his five-year baseball journey still leaves him speechless at times.

“It’s awesome to have the opportunity and to just keep moving up levels from [D-II], to the AAC to the ACC and now to Omaha,” Pennington said. “It’s pretty nuts to see where I’ve come and I’m blessed to be where I’m at.”

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