David Kehrli, Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. — For the third straight year, N.C. State baseball’s season came to a screeching halt in an NCAA Regional final with yet another heartbreaking loss.
What has immediately followed are questions from fans regarding the direction of the program and the future of head coach Elliott Avent.
When a team blows leads in back-to-back-to-back seasons on the biggest stage, that talk is inevitable, but before the calls to make changes, it’s important to understand the reality about what State is as a baseball program.
N.C. State is a solid ACC program — one that can compete for championships every so often — but it certainly isn’t on the level of Florida State, Louisville and Virginia.
Given the amount of high school talent in North Carolina and the passionate Wolfpack fan base, N.C. State has the potential to be a top program if the money and resources put in to the program matched that of the aforementioned schools.
In his 21 seasons at the helm, Avent has led the Wolfpack to great success, and done so despite not having the same support and top-level resources of perennial ACC powers.
His list of accomplishments at State include 16 NCAA regional appearances, four NCAA super regional appearances and one College World Series appearance (the Wolfpack’s second ever, with the first coming in 1968).
Avent has produced numerous professional ball players, most notably current major leaguers Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon.
In 2003, Avent won both ACC and National Coach of the Year.
He clearly can coach, but quite simply he is hampered by the fact the program lacks in support from the administration compared to the upper echelon of the ACC.
To be clear, N.C. State has solid facilities, but they aren’t special.
The facilities aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but when you are competing both on the field and in recruiting against some of the most successful programs in baseball, there is ultimately a ceiling of success.
When other ACC programs have state of the art ballparks and facilities, it’s difficult to consistently bring in elite talent when recruits see what they will have at those other schools that they wouldn’t have at State.
The Wolfpack has undoubtedly missed out on high-level recruits because the facilities pale in comparison to the top of the ACC.
Doak Field at Dail Park isn’t a bad stadium, but it’s essentially a generic, bare-bones ballpark without any personality or characteristics that make it stand out.
Throughout the years it has had its issues, including power outages and flooding of the third base dugout during the 2016 NCAA Regional played in Raleigh.
Until the athletic department makes a significant commitment to baseball, starting by upgrading the ballpark, it’s unfair to expect a program to win championships when going against programs that do make that commitment.
Avent gets criticism for having yet to win an ACC Championship, but when you look at the more impressive facilities of the schools that have won it during that time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
A quick look at recent recruiting rankings from Perfect Game show how N.C. State has struggled bringing in talent compared to the top programs in the conference.
The class of 2016 ranked 17th nationally with two ACC teams ranking higher.
The class of 2015 ranked 57th nationally with 11 ACC teams ranking higher.
The class of 2014 ranked 20th nationally with six ACC teams ranking higher.
The class of 2013 ranked 35th nationally with seven ACC teams ranking higher.
It’s obviously difficult to win the ACC when the traditional powers are consistently bringing in better talent.
While administrative support and the amount of money put into the baseball program have nothing to do with the Wolfpack collapsing in regional finals, it does provide a glimpse into what are fair expectations for the program.
It’s understandable for fans to be upset with how the past three seasons have ended, but don’t expect N.C. State to win big until the university makes a bigger commitment to baseball.
Keep in mind what Avent has done with less support than many ACC schools before suggesting any leadership change reasoning or possibilities.