Wolfpack Hosting Rice After Oregon Upset

ncsu_logo_homeAfter being looked over for a national seed, NC State was poised for a trip to Eugene, Oregon this weekend. However, the Rice Owls eliminated the Ducks in winning the regional, which means they will be coming to Raleigh for this weekend’s best of three series.

Obviously, to reach this stage of the postseason, you have to be playing well. Rice has won 12 of its last 13 games, including two of three against Oregon during the Eugene Regional. Meanwhile, NC State is 31-5 since the return of Trea Turner from an ankle injury.

A bevy of strong pitchers will be in Raleigh, as both teams have dominant arms at their disposal. NC State boasts national strikeout leader Carlos Rodon, who has retired 161 batters on strikes this season, while Ethan Ogburn leads the Wolfpack staff in earned run average (2.95).

All three of Rice’s starting pitchers have at least 90 strikeouts this year. Junior Austin Kubitza is the most dominant, with 126 strikeouts and an opposing batting average of .188. Behind Kubitza is Eugene Regional MVP Jordan Stephens (2.48 ERA, 95 strikeouts) and John Simms (2.61 ERA, 90 strikeouts), as well as Conference USA’s best reliever in Zech Lemond (1.52 ERA, 14 saves).

Offensively, the two squads share nearly identical numbers. NC State holds the slimmest of advantages in team batting average, .281 to .280. Rice gets on base at a higher clip (.371 on base percentage to NCSU’s .364), but the Wolfpack has a higher slugging percentage (.391 to .371).

Michael Ratterree was a first-team Conference USA selection for the Owls. The senior outfielder is batting .270, with nine home runs, 41 runs batted in, and 12 stolen bases. Michael Aguino is batting .312 with eight homers, 42 RBI, and a .502 slugging percentage.

NC State’s offense is led by Trea Turner, who is batting .377, slugging .578, and leads his team in walks. However, first baseman Tarran Senay was unstoppable in the Raleigh Regional. The senior was 5-for-11, with seven runs batted in and two home runs.

The series will be the first time the two programs have met on the diamond. Long-time Rice head coach Wayne Graham is in pursuit of his 1,000th career win. Sitting at 997-398 in his career, the entirety of which has been spent at Rice, a Super Regional win would give Graham a chance to claim the milestone win in Omaha.

Although Rice was one of the most consistent programs in the nation during the first decade of the 2000s, this marks Rice’s first Super Regional appearance since 2009. Between 2002 and 2008, the Owls participated in five of the seven College World Series, claiming the national championship in 2003.

Meanwhile, NC State is looking to make its first (and only other) trip to Omaha since 1968. That year, the Wolfpack defeated Alabama, East Carolina, and Florida State to win the District 3 regional in Gastonia, North Carolina. Elliott Avent has led the Wolfpack to 12 Regionals and two Super Regionals since replacing Ray Tanner in 1997, but the trip to Omaha has eluded him to date.

Earlier this season, Rice met with fellow ACC team North Carolina in the Astros Foundation College Classic at Minute Maid Park. The Tar Heels claimed a 2-1 win in that game, as Chaz Frank scored in the ninth inning on a Lemond wild pitch.

The series, along with the Super Regionals in Chapel Hill, will likely be impacted by weather. Tropical Storm Andrea, as of this writing, is projected to pass through North Carolina Friday afternoon, when the openers of both series are scheduled. With heavy rainfall expected, the possibility of a postponement is considerable.

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