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This Omaha Run Feels Different

When NC State broke through and earned a berth to the College World Series in 2013, it did so for the first time in 45 years. The clinching game, a 17-inning marathon against Rice where the Pack rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the 9th, was only made possible by a two-out walk-off the day before. State trailed in the 9th of both games. 

The baseball team’s best moments have always come tightly tied to some obligatory theatrics, a propensity that is very on-brand for NC State. The themes of the men’s basketball team’s 1983 title run, a storybook that featured long odds and endless drama on the path to overcoming them, has come to incarnate most of the national successes of NC State athletics, the Pack’s last two College World Series escapades certainly included. Just ask Kevin Kopps and the Arkansas Razorbacks, who enjoyed a +17 run differential and got eliminated by a 9th inning homer.

The baseball team’s existence over the last 30ish years is something of a microcosm of the whole athletic department. Almost never terrible, but rarely great and short on hardware, with any form of national relevance coming at the cost of any semblance of verisimilitude. Only the unbelievable could get State over the top. 

This is a thread that has run strong through countless years of State’s more recent history, but feels like it’s started to fray. Avent’s Super Regional wins in 2013 and 2021 and subsequent CWS appearances felt like monumental moments for not just the baseball team, but the athletic department as a whole. The Pack’s Super Regional win in Athens on Monday night felt different. 

Every team has its stories to tell, its adversity to overcome, and its drama to survive, but the feeling you get processing this run to Omaha is different. Those elements don’t feel like the storyline. The odds never felt long. State played some competitive games in its regional, but there was never any doubt who the best team was. A week later, the Pack was plainly better than Georgia, and a lot of people knew it going in. It had superior pitching and its bats could keep up. The better team won and State is back in Omaha for the second time in four years, which really doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention.

The bar is simply higher now. Avent, in his 28th season, has elevated the program to a new status. It’s a compliment to him to say that this doesn’t present as an earth-shattering moment in Raleigh. College World Series appearances should not be taken for granted ever, but as a parallel thought, State is past the point where it’s playing with house money. This isn't some Cinderella run, it's not a historic breakthrough moment, and State is not really an underdog. This group has been excellent for months. It’s not showing up in Nebraska to continue an incredible story. This is a program and team that belongs there.

It stands as a statement of status that the idea of the “cardiac pack” or the mantra of “never give up” weren’t necessary to get this team to Omaha. The athletic department has undeniably gone through a graduation of sorts over the last decade, a trajectory that feels mimicked by the baseball team and punctuated by this relatively comfortable Super Regional win. We’re in a different era now. 

State is good at stuff. It’s good at baseball. It’s good at football. It’s good at women’s basketball, tennis, wrestling, swimming, cross country, and more stuff than that. The level of success that would register as shocking to these programs is higher than it’s ever been, and in some cases it doesn’t exist at all. 

This is something to celebrate just in and of itself. In so many sports, baseball included, the Pack has progressed from largely quiescent to upstart status to bona fide contender, and much like a football team that's routinely in play for the ACC and a women's basketball team that will have a shot at consecutive Final Fours, Avent's group is on this level now. It feels different because it is different. We have a real contender of a baseball team here, and there is no sense in being shy about the goal. 

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It's funny, as the season was winding down it started feeling a lot like 2021 to me with a slightly better bullpen situation. That even continued into the regional. But when they blew out Georgia in the first game I started being concerned about the Arkansas Super happening in reverse. But after the second game I had feeling the third game would be closer. As that third game wore on it did start feeling different. This team is more complimentary that the 2021 team I think. On a side note I found it very annoying that the announcers pointed out the might Bulldogs were second in all the land in homeruns yet I think they mentioned once that State outhomered them…

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