Elliott Avent was in a good mood after his N.C. State baseball team piled up 22 runs in a pair of road wins over North Carolina last week.
Then Avent was told who would be in the Wolfpack’s pool for the ACC tournament: Wake Forest, a nemesis to the athletic department at large, and Florida State, a personal nemesis to Avent and the baseball program.
The expression on his face changed.
“That’s a tough group,” Avent said.
It’s never easy when you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done in nearly three decades. Avent and the Wolfpack (41-15), the No. 3 seed, begin the pursuit of its first ACC title since 1992 on Thursday night (scheduled 7 p.m. start) against the Demon Deacons at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The winner will advance to Saturday’s semifinals. That’s because the Deacons “helped” N.C. State by beating FSU 7-4 on Tuesday. The loss eliminated the Seminoles, who will still play the Wolfpack on Friday in what amounts to an exhibition game.
As the top seed in Pool C, N.C. State owns the tiebreak if all three teams finish 1-1 in pool play. That means the Wolfpack won’t have to clear the FSU hurdle. But Wake Forest?
The Deacons (31-25) have made it a habit to enforce the unwritten law of “N.C. State can’t have nice things.” They prevented the Wolfpack football team from reaching the double-digit win plateau with a stirring late-season win in Winston-Salem in 2017. Then in November in a Thursday night showcase game, Wake’s backup quarterback (in his first start) engineered a fourth-quarter comeback against the Wolfpack, a three-touchdown favorite, to eliminate N.C. State from major bowl contention.
The Wolfpack men’s basketball team lost in Winston-Salem in January (one of four ACC wins by the Deacs and the only one against a team with a winning record) to help keep N.C. State out of the NCAA tournament.
Inexplicably, both the N.C. State football and basketball teams decided to wear all-black uniforms in the losses. Apparently when N.C. State dresses like Wake, it plays like Wake.
Avent, perhaps the most ardent State fan there is, keeps his team primarily outfitted in red and white but the baseball team did drop its series to the Deacs in Winston-Salem in April.
All-ACC shortstop Will Wilson missed the second two games of the series while being treated for concussion symptoms. N.C. State had a 7-0 lead in the third game of the series but lost 9-8.
Wilson missed six games in April, which coincided with an N.C. State slump. Wilson returned on April 30 and the Wolfpack has won eight of 11 games. In the past 10 games, Wilson is hitting .514 (18 of 35) with three home runs, 12 RBIs and 15 runs scored.
Wake Forest, behind ACC player of the year Bobby Seymour, is trying to play its way into the NCAA tournament. The Deacs have pieced together consecutive wins over Clemson and FSU after losing their final three ACC series of the regular season.
For N.C. State, beating Wake might be the lesser of two mountains to climb. The Noles have beaten N.C. State in the ACC tournament in three of the past four years and eliminated the Wolfpack twice (2018 and 2015).
The ‘15 loss was also at the DBAP and in the championship game. Avent, in his 23rd season, has made the title game five times but has come up empty each time. FSU has handed the Wolfpack the two most recent losses (in ‘15 and ‘10) in the title round.
Instead of worrying about the Seminoles, the Wolfpack will have to exorcise its demons with the Deacons.