Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Second basemen

This is the third post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at second basemen.

To recap how this team was selected, current players and players who finished their eligibility prior to 1981 were not eligible. Players who began their college career before 1981 but finished in 1981, ’82 or ’83 were eligible, with their pre-1981 achievements more or less grandfathered into this. This affected several players from the 1981 and ’82 teams.

At the end of the day, both objective analysis and subjective opinion played a role in determining who made this team. I’ve taken painstaking care in going over this to make sure I’ve included everyone who is worthy. If, however, I left off a deserving name, it was wholly inadvertent. And if your favorite player did not make this team, it was not intended in any way to diminish that player. NC State has had more than its share of great players. I couldn’t list everyone.

Coming Saturday: Third basemen.

• Second Base — Tom Sergio (1994-97)
Tom Sergio came to NC State as an unheralded recruit from the Philadelphia suburbs, a late signee whose only other Division I offer was from Virginia Commonwealth. He quickly established himself as one of the best hitters on one of the best hitting teams in college baseball, and was arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in program history. When he reached base, which he did about as frequently as anyone to ever wear the uniform, he usually made his way around the bases and crossed home plate. He still holds the Atlantic Coast Conference record with 290 runs scored. His speed enabled him to break the school’s career record for stolen bases (since shattered by Trea Turner). That same speed helped him turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. Sergio was ACC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American in 1994 after batting .366 with 72 runs scored, 15 steals in 16 attempts. He had a .441 on-base percentage while slugging .469. And that was just a taste to whet the appetite. As a sophomore a year later, Sergio truly burst on the national scene, batting .391 with 70 runs scored, 17 steals, a then-school-record .489 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage. In addition to earning first-team All-ACC, he was second-team All-America by The Sporting News. Typical of many draft eligible juniors, Sergio suffered something of an offensive drop-off in ’96. He batted .317 with a .399 on-base percentage, both figures representing a decline of nearly 20 percent from his 1995 totals. On the plus side, he belted 17 doubles and stole 23 bases, both career highs. His 21 extra-base hits gave him a .455 slugging percentage. It was a down season only by his own previous standards, and he more than atoned for it all as a senior in ’97. Sergio’s finale for the Wolfpack was grand, indeed. He batted .412 with 14 doubles, 16 homers, 85 runs scored, 68 runs driven in, 18 steals in 22 attempts, 51 walks, a .700 slugging percentage and a .526 on-base percentage. He set school records that year for runs scored, walks and OBP, and also set career highs in homers, hits (100), total bases (170) and RBIs. He was All-America for the second time in three years, and this time he was just the fourth-ever first-team All-American in NC State history. Nineteen years after playing his last college game, Sergio still figures prominently in the school record book. In addition to being the ACC record-holder for runs, he ranks among NC State’s career leaders with 362 hits (2nd), 19 triples (2nd), 73 steals (2nd), 150 walks (3rd), 243 games played (4th), 521 total bases (5th), a .370 batting average (6th) and 167 RBIs (8th). Career records for on-base percentage have not been kept by the NC State athletics communication office, but Sergio’s .461 mark would have to rank near the top of the list. He finished with a remarkable ratio of 150 career walks to just 105 strikeouts. He slugged .534, giving him a career OPS of .995. For what it’s worth, he is, to my memory, the only hitter in NC State history who never, not one single time, took a practice swing in the on-deck circle. Never once. He saved his swings for when it counted. And he definitely made each and every swing count.

• Second Team — Brian Ward (1998-99)

Brian Ward looked more than a wee bit like Barney Rubble from The Flintstones. He stood about 5-foot-7 and was listed at 188 pounds. At times he appeared to be about as wide as he was tall, although that was certainly an optical illusion. Ward also was a slow runner, to put it kindly. But my, oh my, how the little guy could hit. With a bat in his hands, he was the biggest guy in the room, anywhere he went. He had quick hands, a short stroke, superb bat-to-balls skills, and a high baseball IQ. If hitting is a craft, then Ward was a master craftsman. After a record-shattering career at Brevard Community College in Orlando, Fla., where he twice led the state in batting (hitting .434 and .471), Ward came to Raleigh and twice earned second-team All-ACC honors with huge offensive years for the Wolfpack. He finished second in the ACC with a .393 average as a junior in 1998, belting 11 home runs with 66 RBIs. He had 105 hits, including 31 doubles, both of which still stand as school records. He walked 33 times. He had 267 at-bats (4th most in a single season in Wolfpack annals) and amassed 173 total bases (6th). He had a .466 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging percentage. There are times when you wonder what the voters of all-star teams are thinking, and the fact that Ward finished second in the All-ACC voting that year is one of those cases. The league’s coaches voted Clemson’s Kurt Bultmann first-team all-conference at second base, ahead of Ward. Bultmann hit .299 with 18 doubles, 10 home runs, 54 RBIs, a .383 on-base percentage and a .513 slugging percentage. Ward hit for a higher average (by .094 points), a higher on-base percentage (by .083 points), a higher slugging percentage (by .135 points), had more hits (105 to 70), hit more doubles (30 to 24) and home runs (11 to 10), and drove in more runs (66 to 54). And finished second. Whatever the coaches were smoking that day, I’m happy to report that it’s now legal in several states. A year later, Ward batted .367 with 18 doubles, 16 homers and 73 RBIs. He scored a team-best 65 runs and even stole nine bases in 12 attempts. He drew 37 walks and got hit by pitch nine times, giving him a .460 on-base percentage to go with a .671 slugging percentage. He led the team in home runs, RBIs, slugging and OPS (1.131). Again, Ward finished second in the all-conference balloting at second base, and this time the coaches got it right. Florida State’s Marshall McDougall earned conference player of the year honors by hitting .419 with 28 homers and 106 RBIs. He led the nation in RBIs and hits (126). In one game at Maryland, he belted six homers and drove in 16 runs. In one game! So Ward only got robbed by the coaches once in two years. Ward left NC State as the school’s career leader in batting average with a .380 mark, which still ranks second only to Aaron Bates’s .387 average from 2005-06. He also ranks third in school history with a .659 career slugging percentage. Again, there are no official rankings for career OBP in the school record book, but his .463 mark is two points better than Sergio’s, although in about half as many plate appearances. His career OPS was an eye-opening 1.122. The Padres drafted Ward in the 12th round of the 1999 MLB draft. After playing parts of three seasons in the Padres organization, he spent four years with Fargo-Moorhead of the independent Northern League, where he hit a combined .270 with 81 doubles and 27 homers in 364 games. After retiring, Ward spend seven seasons as an assistant coach on Elliott Avent’s staff.

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