Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Unofficial Scorer’s NC State Baseball Superlatives: 1981-2016

In case you missed it, the Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 is now unofficial (this is the Unofficial Scorer, so everything here is unofficial) and in the books. But I didn’t want to stop with simply naming the team and writing briefly about each player. Working NC State baseball the last 36 years not only allowed me to watch some great players and teams, but also experience some great moments and meet some great individual people, and I wanted to write a bit about some of that as well.

There are people in this world who go to the mall to sell shoes every day for a living. For several decades, I went to Doak Field and watched the Wolfpack play baseball. Whose job would you rather have? Don’t misunderstand. Working baseball can be a grind. A college baseball SID has to juggle a details and perform an equal number of thankless tasks. It’s hard work and in May and June the workweek often exceeds 100 hours, but I never once had to force a size 7 shoe onto a size 8 foot. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t appreciate that.

With that in mind, here are some superlatives for the All-Time Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016.

Greatest player: Okay, right out of the gate I’m going to cop out and not name a greatest player. Instead, in the next few weeks I’m going to make the case for six players and let you decide for yourself. The six players played in different eras — from 1987 through 2014 — and their ranks include table-setters, sluggers and all-around all-stars. Comparing players from different eras is difficult, too much apples and oranges for me, especially when their skill sets are so dissimilar, so I’ll leave greatest player up to you. I’ll post an introductory essay next Tuesday.

Greatest starting pitcher: The nominees for greatest player are all position players. Comparing everyday players with pitchers is more than I care to deal with. Their contributions are so different and their values are measured in such disparate ways that I just decided to restrict outstanding player to position players. Besides, I already made it pretty clear who the greatest starter and the greatest reliever are. Their identity should surprise no one. Carlos Rodon was easily the greatest starting pitcher I ever saw in an NC State uniform.

Greatest relief pitcher: Same as the paragraph above. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Wolfpack’s greatest reliever, by leaps and bounds, was Joey Devine. I’ve already made that case pretty clearly.

Most important player: Chris Combs.

The website address is If Twitter is your thing, try #TeamChrisCombs.

I think most NC State fans are aware by now that former Wolfpack standout Chris Combs (1994-97) was diagnosed this past spring with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as it’s commonly known. I first met Chris when he was about 8 years old and serving as a bat boy for his dad with the Wolfpack’s summer league entry in a now-long defunct college summer league called the North State League. I met him then, but I didn’t really get to know him until he came to NC State as a player in the fall of 1993. Like everyone else who’s ever come in contact with him, I liked him immediately. Impossible not to, really. There’s something disarming about Chris Combs that just puts people at ease. Bloodlines certainly have something to do with it. As most Wolfpack fans know, Chris comes from a great family with super parents. He was raised well. And part of it is just his own DNA. I can’t say I know him well but I know him well enough. Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent only coached Chris for one season but absolutely loved him, still does, and ranks him among his favorite players ever. Once his playing career was over, Chris and his people skills were a perfect fit for the Wolfpack Club. He was, and remains, a rising star there.

I don’t need to remind anyone what a horrible disease ALS is. And as most people reading this blog probably know, it’s stricken a disproportionate number of baseball people since Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939, or so it seems. The list includes Gehrig, Catfish Hunter (how’s this for irony? Francis Combs, Chris’s father, was Hunter’s high school catcher), former big league catcher Ed Sadowski, Georgia Kindall (wife of former major league infielder and University of Arizona coach Jerry Kindall), former East Carolina coach Keith LeClair, and former Boston College first baseman and team captain Pete Frates. Painful as it is, we now have to add Chris Combs to the list.

To no one’s surprise and to his everlasting credit, Chris is not fighting ALS in private. Possibly because of his high-profile job and his fund-raising contacts with the Wolfpack Club — more likely because he’s a competitive former ballplayer and plays everything to win — he’s fighting this very much in the public eye (again, check out the Twitter account and website address above, and don’t be afraid to pull out your checkbook). A charity auction he helped to organize in October raised more than $1 million for ALS awareness and research. We can expect much more of the same in the months and years ahead.

Because of Frates, diagnosed in 2012, college baseball has moved into the forefront of the fight against ALS. Frates was the inspiration for the now legendary ice-bucket challenge, which helped to raise hundreds of million of dollars for ALS research. BC head coach Mike Gambino’s stated goal is to make college baseball as synonymous with the fight against ALS as college basketball is for its Coaches Against Cancer campaign. Because of Chris Combs, NC State now has joined Boston College as leaders of that fight, and that means everyone, administration, coaches, players, former players, fans, former SIDs and blog writers, like it or not, we’re all part of this.

Dating back to Lou Gehrig’s diagnosis in 1939, medical science went more than seven decades with no progress towards finding any kind of treatment or cure for ALS. No progress, as in none at all, nada, zip, zero, the null set. That’s changed in the last few years. Thanks to research funded by the ice-bucket challenge, a gene that researchers believe is a common link among ALS sufferers has been discovered and isolated. Because of this discovery and subsequent research, a possible treatment could be approved by the FDA in the next year or so. That’s a far cry from a cure, mind you, a quantum leap, in fact, but a treatment to help allay some of the symptoms is a huge first step. And that’s where we come in. At the very least, contribute to your local ALS Foundation chapter. Wear the red bracelet to show your support in the fight against ALS. And don’t forget to pray, for Chris Combs, for Pete Frates, for every ALS patient, and for their families and their loved ones. Keep them in your thoughts. Send them good vibrations.

Heightened awareness and further research are vital in helping to strike out ALS. This is more than sports; it’s life and death, and it’s the least we can do to honor Chris Combs, who is now the most important and the most inspirational player in NC State baseball history. His fight is our fight.

Most gratifying moment(s): The story about helping get Clay Eason named first-team All-America ranks as my most gratifying moment as a baseball SID. Eason suffered through a humiliating first season with the Wolfpack, but his senior campaign may have been the greatest single season I ever saw by an NC State reliever. Because he only saved four games, his work did not fit the traditional statistical profile of a bullpen ace, a “closer,” which is what usually draws postseason accolades. Clay did all the work. All props to him. All I did was watch and tell people about it. Nice work if you can get it, right? I was only glad to help.

The other moment that stands out came that same season, during the ACC baseball tournament in St. Petersburg. I forget which day it was, but the All-ACC team was announced during the tournament — during one of NC State’s games, in fact — and on the postgame walk back to the team hotel (directly across the street from Al Lang Stadium), I pulled senior catcher/DH Scott Lawler aside and told him he had made second-team all-conference. Lawler was and remains one of those all-time good guys who are so easy to pull for. He struggled to stay in the lineup much of his early career with the Wolfpack, but was one of several players who made a connection with then-first-year head coach Elliott Avent. In ’97 Lawler had a terrific senior season on a terrific team that won 43 games in a storybook season. And he was so grateful for the recognition. It was only second team All-ACC but you’d have thought he’d won the World Series and been elected to the Hall of Fame. Lawler’s family, all terrific people, was with him when I delivered the news, and their reaction was priceless, one of those feel-good moments that makes the job a little less of a grind.

Favorite player: Jonathan Diaz. See his entry in the shortstop listing.

Most deserving players who didn’t make this team: In retrospect, I have no doubt whatsoever that I got the entire first team of the All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 exactly right. Nailed each and every one. You can disagree with me but you’d be dead wrong. Second team, well, that’s another story. I’m not saying I got it wrong, just that there were some really tough choices to make, none of which would have been the wrong choice. I went back and forth at several positions, even compromised to the point of adding an extra starting pitcher to the second team, and I still came away with some nagging doubts. The guys that ultimately made second team all were deserving of recognition, but so were several who didn’t make the cut. It was with deep regret that I had to omit any of them.

At first base, Aaron Bates (2005-06) had an incredible two-year run here after transferring from San Jose State. He batted .425 with a .523 on-base percentage (both just missed setting school records) in 2005 and earned All-America and first-team All-ACC honors in the process. He was almost as good a year later, although opposing pitchers were much more careful pitching to him. His numbers declined some as a result, but he still earned second-team all-conference. Bates anchored the heart of the order for two of the best offensive teams in school history. There’s a reason for that. His .387 career batting average is still tops in school history. At almost any other position he’d have made second team easily, maybe first team. With Turtle Zaun and Tracy Woodson standing in his way, however, Bates had no shot.

Choosing Brian Ward over Doug Strange (1983-85) for second-team second baseman was probably the most difficult call I made, one that I went back and forth on for weeks. It didn’t help matters that I consider both to be great friends, and badly wanted to include them both. It did not help Strange’s cause that NC State played played just 37, 40 and 45 games, respectively, in his three years in Raleigh. I talked about this in the entries for Woodson at first base and for Chuckie Canady in left field, and it definitely applies to Strange. I have no idea what kind of numbers he’d have put up had he played 60 games each year. Ward, on the other hand, played more games in two seasons (126) than Strange did in three (121) and put up record-breaking numbers. That much I do know. Strange was a great player who went on to enjoy a nine-year big league career, but his college career was truncated by an administration that chose to cut costs rather than field a baseball team for an entire season. Everyone who played in those years deserved better, including Doug Strange.

Former Wolfpack coach Sam Esposito used to preach that catcher and shortstop are defensive positions, that you have to get defense from your catcher and shortstop, even if that means sacrificing some offense. So be it. Those words have stayed with me over the years — many of Espo’s lessons are burned into my memory bank — and in large part because of that, my second-team choices at catcher and shortstop — Greg Almond and Jonathan Diaz, respectively — were the best defensive players NC State has had at those two positions. Almond was actually a pretty good hitter and made second-team All-ACC in both 1992 and ’93, but several Wolfpack catchers over the years hit better and were good defenders as well. None played defense like Almond, however. He was the best defensive catcher I’ve seen in 36 years.

At shortstop, Alex Wallace (1984-87) was a superb player for four years, a three-year team captain and a smooth defensive shortstop with some pop in his bat. Terrific player, and another good friend. Chris Diaz (2010-12) was an All-American in 2012, an excellent defender who punished the ball offensively, and an acclaimed team leader. I went with defense again. It is my honest opinion that if NC State plays baseball for another 100 years, the likes of Jonathan Diaz (Chris’s older brother) might not pass through those clubhouse doors again. That’s not a knock on Wallace or Chris Diaz any other shortstop who’s played here, or who will play here in the future. That’s just a hint at how special Jonathan Diaz was with a glove on his left hand.

My first two years covering NC State baseball were 1981 and ’82 when I was the play-by-play announcer for games on WKNC-FM. It was my great pleasure those years to call games pitched by Joe and Dan Plesac. Dan (1981-83) went on to pitch for 18 years in the major leagues and now is a successful and highly entertaining analyst on the MLB Network. It was his brother Joe (1980-82), however, who came within an eyelash of making the All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016. Joe was first-team All-ACC his first two years at NC State, a dynamite starting pitcher who was money in the bank every time Esposito handed him the ball. Dan was something of an erratic fireballer who lit up radar guns, made second-team all-conference as a freshman, and became a first-round draft pick in 1983. Joe, on the other hand, was a polished pitcher, blessed with a good two-seam fastball, a plus breaking ball and changeup, and had command of all three. When Dan was in the strike zone (which was not as often as his coaches might have liked), he blew hitters away. Joe lived on the fringes of the strike zone and routinely carved up opposing lineups. Joe probably would have been a first-round pick in the 1982 draft, but a shoulder injury held him back and dropped him into the second round, where the Padres took him. He never made the big leagues, but when healthy he certainly looked like a future big leaguer. I already had four second-team starting pitchers when I got around to Joe, and I just couldn’t stretch it to five.

No one was more deserving of making this team than Clay Eason, but he was hardly the only reliever I considered for the second team. Brian Bark (1987-90), the first-team center fielder, is second in school history with 20 career saves and led the ACC in saves as a senior in 1990. Jamie Wolkosky made first-team All-America after setting what then was an ACC record (and is still an NC State record) with 15 saves in 1992, his only year in Raleigh. Grant Sasser (2008-13) was 3-0 with a 1.03 ERA and eight saves in 33 appearances in 2013. His slider was lethal and opposing hitters batted .193 against him. In many respects, he was as responsible as Carlos Rodon for NC State clawing its way to the College World Series.

So as you can see, many of the second-team selections weren’t as cut and dried as the first-team picks. Many of those who were left off easily could have made it, and many who made it easily could have been left off. Had I done this team a week earlier or a week later, things might look very different. That’s how much I wavered.

Best team: 2013. Other teams hit better than this one (most teams hit better than this one), but none pitched better, especially out of the bullpen, and none had better or tougher leadership. I don’t remember a Wolfpack team winning so many close, low-scoring games or winning so many games when the starting pitcher (always someone not named Carlos Rodon) failed to get out of the third or fourth inning. And of the 36 NC State teams I’ve covered or worked, this is the only one to get to the College World Series. They always found a way to beat you. Case closed.

Best everyday lineup: 1988, 2005-2006. More on both below, but in a nutshell, the ’88 team is listed here for its overpowering offense, the 2005 and ’06 teams for their combination for strong offense and other-worldly defense.

Best hitting team: 1988. This team put up video-game numbers — a .346 team batting average, 9.36 runs per game, 139 doubles, 123 home runs, a .419 on-base percentage and a .591 slugging percentage. Unreal. Six different players hit 10 or more home runs and eight drove in 40 or more runs. For some perspective, one player on last year’s team hit double-digit homers and three drove in 40 or more runs. Four players from the ’88 team made first-team All-ACC and another made second-team. Turtle Zaun earned ACC Player of the Year and All-America honors by hitting .399 with 19 doubles, 25 home runs, 87 RBIs, a .489 on-base percentage and an .811 slugging percentage.

Best defensive team: 2005 and 2006. Both teams had basically the same lineup, so I’ve lumped them together here. Both were exceptional defensive teams, especially up the middle with catchers Jake Muyco (2005) and Caleb Mangum (2006), second baseman Ramon Corona, shortstop Jonathan Diaz and center fielder Matt Camp. Diaz and Camp, both with instincts and baseball IQs off the charts, were like coaches on the field. Watching these two teams execute fundamentals such as cutoffs and relays and first-and-third plays was like watching big leaguers run a clinic.

Favorite team: 1992. I liked pretty much every team I worked with, genuinely loved several of them, but the 1992 team was the first that I officially travelled with. I made more meaningful and lasting friendships with guys from that team than from any other. That’s my sentimental reason for choosing it. There were objective reasons as well. The ’92 team was a great team, 46-18 overall, 15-9 in conference play, and a beast down the stretch, winning 24 times in a 32-game stretch through the ACC Tournament finals. Four players from that team made first-team All-ACC — shortstop Sean Drinkwater, designated hitter Vinny Hughes, starting pitcher Matt Donahue and relief pitcher Jamie Wolkosky. Three more — third baseman Paul Borawski, outfielder Pat Clougherty and catcher Greg Almond — were voted second-team all-conference. Donahue and Wolkosky anchored the pitching staff and both were All-Americans. After finishing third in the league’s regular-season standings, the 1992 Wolfpack won the ACC championship, the program’s last ACC title (a drought that hopefully ends in Louisville this coming June). Hughes, Drinkwater, Borawski and Donahue were voted to the all-tournament team. Donahue won two games in the tournament, both complete games, the second one on short rest in the finals, and was voted tournament MVP.

Best overall pitching staff: 2013. NC State was hardly an offensive juggernaut in 2013. The team hit .277, scored about six runs per game and had slugging and on-base percentages well south of .400. Keep those guys in the game, however, and they usually found a way to win. And that pitching staff invariably kept them in the game. Combine Carlos Rodon (10-3, 2.99 ERA) and a bullpen anchored by Grant Sasser (3-0, 1.03, 8 saves, 33 appearances, 43.2 IP, .193 opponents batting average), Chris Overman (1-1, 0.33, 6 saves, 21 appearances, 27.1 IP, .110 opponents average), and Josh Easley (7-2, 1.38, 1 save, 25 appearances, 45.2 IP, .224 opponents average) and it’s easy to see how NC State got to Omaha. The staff ERA was 3.08 for the season, but 1.71 in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. It was 2.03 in the three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. When the money was on the table, they delivered.

Best starting rotation: 1992. Matt Donahue (14-2, 2.41), Terry Harvey (6-2, 2.48), Shawn Senior (5-3, 4.19), Rob Steinert (3-2, 5.23) and Tommy Sports (7-1, 2.69) combined to pitch nine complete games with 395 strikeouts and a 3.01 ERA in 386 innings. Donahue was the staff bellwether, but he wasn’t alone. Harvey came from football and earned Freshman All-America. Sports transferred in from Methodist College and seemingly came out of nowhere the second half of the season. Senior, a future fourth-round draft pick, was a stalwart all year, a tough lefty with a big curveball. Helping the starters immensely was All-America closer Jamie Wolkosky, who saved a school-record 15 games.

Best bullpen: 2013. The true and often overlooked heroes on the 2013 College World Series team. The 2013 bullpen went 31-5 with 19 saves and a 2.57 ERA. The pen made 203 appearances, worked 315 innings (4 2/3 innings per game), allowed just 238 hits and held opposing hitters to a .210 average. Over the final 41 games of the season, the pen went 20-2 with 13 saves and a 2.24 ERA in 181 innings. Rodon made 19 starts, usually giving the relievers the night off. The bullpen did most of the heavy lifting the rest of the time.

Most memorable season: 2003 — Hard to beat a College World Series appearance, but 2003 was truly unique. With only 10 home games all season and a lot of long bus rides and forgettable hotel stays due to stadium renovations, the 2003 season was exhausting and exhilarating. After a 5-4 start, the Wolfpack developed a road-warrior mentality, won 16 games in a row, and never looked back. They kept on winning, rising in the polls as the season unfolded and reaching as high as No. 2 in April and early May. NC State advanced to the finals of the ACC Tournament and hosted an NCAA regional in Wilson before ending the season at the school’s first NCAA Super Regional.

Toughest team to kill: NC State has authored numerous great comebacks over the years, but in 1997, Elliott Avent’s first Wolfpack team pulled off one stirring come-from-behind victory after another. That team was never out of a game.

On Feb. 21, the Wolfpack trailed a strong New Orleans team 5-0 through seven innings in the first round of the Winn-Dixie Showdown at the Louisiana Superdome. Thanks to Jake Weber’s grand slam homer, NC State scored five runs in the top of the eighth and won 8-5 in extra innings.

On March 11, George Mason led NC State 7-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning at Doak Field, and 8-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Wolfpack scored two in the sixth and four in the eighth to tie the game at 8-8, then won 9-8 on Tom Sergio’s two-out solo homer in the bottom of the ninth.

On April 1, 1997, in the granddaddy of all comebacks, NC State trailed The Citadel 11-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning in the first game of a doubleheader. Thanks to a grand-slam homer by Scott Lawler and back-to-back homers from Jake Weber and Chris Combs, the Pack scored 11 times in the bottom of the sixth and won going away, 17-13. (NC State won the nightcap 16-0, btw, meaning the Wolfpack outscored The Citadel 32-2 over the final 13 innings of the twin-bill.)

On April 4, NC State trailed North Carolina 3-0 in the sixth inning, 7-3 in the seventh, and 8-5 in the eighth, but rallied each time, winning on 9-7 on Brad Piercy’s two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. In that game, Chris Combs hit the longest ball I ever saw struck at Doak Field, a blast just to the left of dead center field that cleared the south goal on the practice soccer field on Lee Field.

On May 22 in the first round of the NCAA South II Regional in Tuscaloosa, the Wolfpack trailed perennial NCAA Tournament power Wichita State 8-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but scored six in the seventh and three more in the eighth to tie the score at 9-9. Walk-on infielder Jason Smith stroked an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th to secure the victory and shock the Shockers, 10-9.

Most memorable moment: Winning the 2013 super regional and getting to the College World Series for the first time since 1968. Dating back to the 1980s, NC State fought an uphill battle for respect and credibility in the world of college baseball. Beginning in 1986, the Wolfpack became a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament, earning a regional bid 24 times in 31 years, including a school-record six years in a row from 2003-08. Several of those teams knocked on the door to the College World Series. The 1991 team made the regional finals in Gainesville. The Wolfpack was the last unbeaten team in the 1998 West Regional in Palo Alto. The 2003, ’08 and ’12 teams advanced to NCAA Super Regionals only to lose. So many teams got within hailing distance of Omaha, but the frustration mounted and by 2013 it had been 45 years. That’s a lot of history, a lot of teams, and several generations of players who gave their all only to fall short. The 2013 team was playing for those all those former players as well themselves. All of that added up to a lot of pressure on a team already fighting history and great expectations. When the ’13 team finally got that monkey off its collective backs, they did it the hard way. Yes, the Pack swept the Super Regional against Rice, but had to rally for a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the ninth to win game one, then went 17 innings and a lengthy rain delay before eliminating the Owls in a nail-biting marathon in game two. It had to be the most excruciatingly difficult sweep in college baseball history.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Relief Pitchers

This is the 11th post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at starting pitchers.

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 Thursday: Superlatives from 1981-2016.

Relief Pitchers
• First Team — Joey Devine (2003-05)
For three years, Joey Devine came out of the NC State bullpen and pitched like a big leaguer. Like a big leaguer facing college hitters. He was as close to a human victory cigar as head coach Elliott Avent will ever know. Devine made 87 career appearances, picked up 11 wins, recorded 36 saves, struck out 206, and walked just 44 in 150 1/3 innings. He averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a career ERA of 2.87. He holds the school records for appearances and saves. He ranks fourth in ACC history in saves. He is tied for the NC State single-season record with 36 appearances in 2003. He saved 14 games that year, tops in the ACC and one save shy of Jamie Wolkosky’s school record, set in 1992. He is the only Wolfpack pitcher ever to record 10 or more saves in a season more than once. He did it three times. He is one of just four NC State pitchers ever to make All-ACC three times, the only reliever on that list, and is one of just two Wolfpack pitchers (along with Carlos Rodon) to make first-team all-conference three times. Largely unheralded out of Junction City (Kan.) High School, Devine made life miserable for college hitters almost from the get-go. After emerging as the Wolfpack’s closer in the early weeks of the 2003 season, Devine helped NC State roll to a 45-win season (with only 10 home games due to stadium renovation) and advance to its first-ever NCAA Super Regional. Combining an unorthodox and highly deceptive near-sidearmed delivery with a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider, Devine earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-America honors as a freshman after compiling a 6-3 record, a 2.19 ERA and 14 saves in 36 appearances. He worked 65 2/3 innings, allowing 49 hits and 16 walks while striking out 78. Opposing hitters batted .210. Devine endured something of a sophomore slump in 2004, losing all four of his decisions with an inflated 5.25 ERA, yet he still led the conference with 10 saves and struck out 56 in 36 innings, 14.0 K’s per nine innings. He held opposing hitters to a .228 average. The ACC’s coaches dismissed the notion of Devine slumping and voted him first-team all-conference for the second time in as many seasons. There was no talk of a slump in 2005 as Devine had one of the greatest seasons ever by an NC State pitcher, starter or reliever, going 5-3 with 12 saves, a 2.03 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. He began the season with six consecutive scoreless appearances (7.2 IP) and ended it with seven consecutive scoreless outings (11.1 IP). For the season, he walked a career-low 10 with a K/BB ratio of 7.2-to-1. He held opposing hitters to a .204 average. That June, the Atlanta Braves selected Devine with the 27th pick in the first round of the 2005 MLB Draft and had him in the big leagues less than two months later. Devine pitched parts of three seasons with the Braves before a 2008 trade to Oakland. Injuries began to interrupt his career about that time, and following Tommy John surgery in ’08, he made it back to Oakland briefly in 2011 before reinjuring his elbow and retiring in 2012. Devine recently re-enrolled in classes at NC State and will be a volunteer coach with the 2017 Wolfpack while finishing his undergraduate degree.

• Second Team — Clay Eason (1996-97)

NC State has had its share of great relievers over the years. I sorted through about a half-dozen names for this spot, but with apologies to Jamie Wolkosky, Grant Sasser and Will Gilbert, I chose Clay Eason because his story is by far the best and the most compelling of the bunch. Eason only pitched two seasons for the Wolfpack after transferring from Emmanuel (Ga.) College. In the first, 1996, he was arguably the worst pitcher in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That is not hyperbole. He stunk. He made eight appearances and allowed 13 runs, all earned, on eight hits and 12 walks in just 6 1/3 innings. That’s 13 runs and 20 baserunners in the span of just 19 outs. Not 19 innings, mind you; 19 outs. His ERA was 18.47. Hard to do. A year later, with a new head coach in Elliott Avent, Eason got a new lease on his baseball life and became just the second NC State pitcher ever to earn first-team All-America honors, going from worst pitcher in the ACC to arguably the best relief pitcher in college baseball, all in the span of a year. Even harder to do. And make no mistake about it, Eason earned it. He posted a 10-2 record with a 2.18 ERA and four saves. That’s not a lot of saves, but Avent didn’t use Eason as a traditional closer. Much has been made of the way Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona deployed Andrew Miller in the 2016 MLB postseason. Avent employed the same operating philosophy with Eason. Why save your best reliever for a ninth-inning save that might never happen? The game could be on the line anywhere from the second through the ninth, and Avent called Eason’s number whenever he felt a game was about to slip away, regardless of the inning. Eason made 28 appearances that year and worked 62 innings, an average of slightly more than two innings per appearance. Few of Eason’s appearances were average, however. Or conventional, for that matter, but again, he wasn’t a closer; he was an old-school fireman. When the alarm bells sounded, Eason came in and put out the fire. Of his four saves, only one was three or fewer outs, a two-out save April 11 vs. Maryland. In fact, he made just four appearances of three or fewer outs the entire season. On the other hand, he made 14 appearances of two or more innings, with an ERA of 1.83. Seven of those appearances were three innings or more, and his ERA in those seven was 1.23. The longer he pitched, the more likely NC State was to win, so no matter the inning or the situation, Avent called Eason’s number frequently and kept him on the mound until the world seemed safe again. With an average fastball, a hammer of a curveball and extraordinary command, Eason allowed just 42 hits and struck out 78 in 62 innings. He walked 27, giving him a WHIP of just 1.11. At season’s end, the ACC’s coaches voted him first-team all-conference. Collegiate Baseball magazine — with a little prodding from the NC State media relations office (i.e., me), including a faxed, typewritten game-by-game account of just how unconventionally Avent used Eason and how insanely effective he was — named him first-team All-America despite the absence of double-digit saves. That easily ranks as my most gratifying moment as a baseball SID. A little background: On the way home from the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament that year, a trip that took the team through the Atlanta airport, I had a brief conversation with Eason between flights. Already aware that Collegiate Baseball was strongly considering him, I let him know that he might make first-team All-America. He looked me straight in the eye and, in a voice that said he was certain I was stark raving mad, told me that if he was named first-team All-America he would run naked up and down the airport concourse. Collegiate Baseball announced its All-America team a week later, the day before NC State began play in the NCAA South II Regional in Tuscaloosa. Eason, hitting fungos as the Wolfpack took batting practice at Alabama’s Sewell-Thomas Stadium, was listed as the first-team All-America reliever. I showed him the press release and called him on his airport vow. He still hasn’t paid up, but he doesn’t need to. The look on his face (and on his father’s face later that afternoon) was all the payment I’ll ever need.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Starting Pitchers

This is the 10th post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at starting pitchers.

Starting pitcher presented the most difficult decisions I had to make for selecting this team, beginning with how many starting pitchers to include. I finally decided on three first-teamers and three second-teamers. Why? Because college baseball teams build their pitching staffs and rosters around three-man starting rotations for weekend conference series. The next problem was that no matter what method I used, I could not break a tie for the final spot on the second team. And so there are four second-team starting pitchers instead of three, proving the old adage that you can never have enough pitching.

The three first-team starters are listed in order, 1-2-3. They were among the easiest choices I had to make here, although one of the three may prove to be a surprise to some, especially to more recent Wolfpack fans. I listed the second-team starters in alphabetical order to avoid revealing the names of the final two. I should also mention that there were several others who just missed making this list, more so than at any other position.

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 Sunday: Relief pitchers.

Starting Pitcher
• First Team —Carlos Rodon (2012-14)
This one’s easy, right? The most dominant college pitcher of his time and the best and most dominant pitcher in school history, Carlos Rodon’s career is recent enough that everyone remembers how great he was. Rodon stood out from the crowd pretty much from the first day of fall practice his freshman year. One particular day that autumn, however, transformed him from a high-end prospect to an instant All-American. It happened during a bullpen session with then-pitching coach Tom Holliday, who suggested that Rodon stop throwing his slider at normal velocity and instead throw it as hard as he could. “Throw the <expletive deleted> out of it,” Holliday reportedly told Rodon. Just like that, an 80-82-mph slider became a devastating wipeout pitch at 88-90. That slider, coupled with a 92-96 mph fastball, made Rodon lethal. Hitters, beginning with unsuspecting teammates in fall scrimmages, never stood a chance. Rodon went 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 114 2/3 innings as a freshman. That earned him pretty much all-everything in college baseball. He was consensus first-team All-America, consensus first-team Freshman All-America, National Freshman of the Year, first-team All-ACC, ACC Pitcher of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, and one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, presented annually to college baseball’s best player. He led the conference in ERA and innings pitched. After touring the world with Team USA that summer, Rodon dominated again as a sophomore, going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA and a school-record 184 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings, an average of 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Consensus first-team All-America for the second year in a row (he is NC State’s only two-time first-team All-American), Rodon’s Herculean performance helped lead the 2013 Wolfpack to a school-record 50 victories and the program’s first College World Series berth in 45 years. Following another tour with Team USA, this time as the college all-star squad’s unquestioned ace, Rodon’s junior season was something of a disappointment, for reasons mostly beyond his control. For evidence that a pitcher’s won-lost record can be completely meaningless, look no further than Rodon’s 6-7 mark in 2014. All season, fans and media members kept asking what was wrong with Rodon, as if he were pitching poorly. If anything, he was pitching as great as ever. The problem was lack of run support, plain and simple. Read the following sentence carefully: In Rodon’s seven losses in 2014, his teammates scored a grand total of two runs. Read that one again, just to be sure you got it. In his seven losses, Rodon’s teammates managed to score all of two runs on 33 hits, nine walks, a .147 batting average, a .187 on-base percentage and a .161 slugging percentage in 63 offensive innings (that’s a 0.29 ERA for the opposing pitchers). No one can win with offensive support as anemic as that. Cy Young would lose with support as bad as that. Rodon’s ERA in those seven losses was 1.84. He struck out 66 and walked 17 in 49 innings (7.0 IP per start and 12.1 K’s per nine innings). Obviously, there was nothing wrong with Rodon. Other than the aforementioned lack of run support and some lousy defense behind him, he was pretty much the same guy in 2014 that he was the previous two seasons. With the pressure of the draft hanging over his head and all of college baseball watching because of his by-then-outsized reputation, Rodon probably exceeded unreasonable expectations, only no one noticed because he had a losing record. He finished the year with a 2.01 ERA in 98 2/3 innings. He allowed 84 hits, struck out 117 and walked 31. Of course, his won-lost record precluded him from All-America consideration, which was unfortunate, but the ACC’s coaches knew better and voted him first-team All-ACC for the third time in as many years. That made him just the second NC State pitcher (along with Joey Devine), and the only NC State starting pitcher, ever to make first-team All-ACC three times. Rodon finished his career with a 25-10 record and a 2.24 ERA. He ranks sixth in school history in wins. He ranks second with 49 starts, third with 345 2/3 innings pitched, and holds both the single-season (184 in 2013) and career (436) records for strikeouts. One final note on Rodon. In six career starts vs. arch-rival North Carolina, which went to the College World Series six times from 2006 to 2013, Rodon went 2-1 with a 0.97 ERA. In 46 1/3 innings vs. the Tar Heels, he struck out 57 and walked 13. While the Wolfpack somehow lost four of those six starts, North Carolina didn’t score the go-ahead run in three of them until Rodon had left the game. Again, lack of run support was his undoing. In those three no-decisions vs. the Heels, NC State scored a grand total of four runs in 41 innings. In the one loss, at the 2013 College World Series, he started on three days rest (as opposed to the customary six) and allowed just one earned run in five innings. Predictably, the Wolfpack got shut out. In two classic extra-inning ACC Tournament matchups vs. UNC — 14 innings in 2012 in Greensboro and 18 innings in 2013 in Durham — he allowed one run on five hits in 19 innings. That lone run was unearned. And of course, NC State managed to lose both games, but not until long after Rodon had hit the showers. If you figure Rodon should have won five of the seven games he lost in 2014 (he got hit hard in a loss at Clemson that year, and allowed eight runs, all unearned but mostly deserved, in an ugly loss at Maryland) plus the three no-decisions against UNC, then his career won-lost record improves to 33-5. I’m trying like crazy to avoid hypotheticals here and I understand there are other factors that could have affected the outcome of any of those games. Still, this is low-hanging fruit. That’s eight games he pretty much dominated and either lost or came away empty-handed because of no run support, poor defensive play, or both. They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Carlos Rodon is Exhibit A. The Chicago White Sox selected Rodon with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft and have not regretted it. He was in the big leagues to stay in less than a year.

• First Team — Matt Donahue (1991-92)
I’m not sure anything surprises me more than how many NC State baseball fans have never even heard of Matt Donahue. In a message-board thread a few years ago asking fans to name the best Wolfpack pitchers they ever saw, Donahue got nary a mention. That is astounding. Part of the problem is that Donahue pitched his last game in a Wolfpack uniform more than 24 years ago. It also doesn’t help that, as a junior college transfer, he only pitched two seasons in Raleigh, and at a time when NC State baseball wasn’t exactly a hot ticket. Still, no one this side of Carlos Rodon ever pitched two seasons like the two Donahue authored in 1991 and ’92. Donahue’s first season at NC State was the last season before the Atlantic Coast Conference adopted its current scheduling format of three-game weekend series for all conference games. By 1991, most ACC schools did, in fact, play three-game conference series, but the Big Four schools in North Carolina frequently played one another in single games on weekdays throughout the course of the season. As a result, Donahue was never just a once-a-week starter. Head coach Ray Tanner drew up his rotation to allow Donahue as many starts as possible, especially in big games, which was perfect for Donahue. He often pitched on four days’ rest, actually preferred working on three days’ rest, and was unafraid of pitching on no rest at all. At the 1991 NCAA East Regional in Gainesville, Fla., he started an elimination game against host and top-seeded Florida on just two days’ rest. Despite the short rest and three — count ’em, three — rain delays totaling nearly six hours, Donahue nursed a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning, striking out 10. An unearned run in the ninth sent the game to extra innings. Donahue left the game after nine and the Wolfpack lost 3-2 in the 10th. The year before, he started the championship game of the Junior College World Series on one day’s rest and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before eventual champion San Jacinto erupted for five runs. Donahue is the only pitcher in NC State history to start at least 19 games in a season twice. His single-season innings-pitched totals of 159 1/3 in 1991 and 134 2/3 in 1992 rank first and second in school history. He also liked to finish what he started, pitching 13 complete games, tied for fifth in school history. He completed nine of his 20 starts in 1991, leading the conference in complete games. In 39 career starts, he never once failed to pitch into the sixth inning. In two years, Donahue won an astonishing 27 games — 13 in 1991 and 14 in 1992, which to this day are the two winningest seasons by a Wolfpack pitcher ever. He overcame the lack of a dominant fastball (he usually pitched at 83-86 mph, occasionally brushing the upper 80s) with superb command of an arsenal of pitches that included both a two- and four-seam fastball, a slider, a curve and a changeup. The offspeed pitches all were filthy. He threw all five pitches from multiple arm slots, and was especially fond of jellylegging righthanded batters with a sidearmed slider. Until Rodon came along, Donahue was NC State’s greatest strikeout artist. He fanned 138 in 1991 and 147 in ’92, leading the ACC both years. Only Rodon (184 in 2013) ever notched more strikeouts in a single season. Donahue also had a mean streak. The victim of a childhood lawnmower accident that mangled his left calf and left him with a pronounced limp, he pitched with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and led the conference in hit batters both seasons. He was not displeased by this. After earning second-team All-ACC honors with a 13-5 record and a 3.45 ERA as a junior in 1991, Donahue went 14-2 with a 2.41 ERA in ’92, leading NC State to its last ACC championship. He stifled Maryland in the tournament opener, then throttled Clemson on three days’ rest in the championship game to win tournament MVP honors. He was first-team All-ACC and second-team All-America. Tanner paid Donahue his greatest compliment a few years ago when he favorably compared him to former South Carolina lefthander Michael Roth, who pitched the Gamecocks to consecutive national championships (2010-11) and is probably the greatest pitcher in College World Series history. The comparison is appropriate and Tanner should know since he coached them both. Roth had the advantages of being lefthanded and being backed by a superior supporting cast (the Gamecocks not only won national championships in 2010 and 2011, but also finished second to Arizona in 2012), but they had much in common. In particular, both dominated hitters with marginal fastballs, filthy offspeed pitches, pinpoint command, lots of smarts, some orneriness, and plenty of guts and determination. Matt Donahue was the best NC State pitcher I saw in 31 years, until Carlos Rodon strolled onto campus in August 2011. Donahue’s still No. 2, and it took one of college baseball’s all-time greats to knock him from the top spot.

• First Team — Terry Harvey (1992-95)
Apparently, the transition from high school to college baseball presented little challenge to Terry Harvey. He came within two outs of throwing a no-hitter in his first college start. He finished his freshman season with a 6-2 record, a 2.48 ERA and a pair of saves, and helped pitch the Wolfpack to its last ACC championship. He was a consensus Freshman All-America selection. A year later, he earned third-team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball magazine after going 10-3 with a 3.26 ERA. On March 26 of that season, he threw a complete-game no-hitter vs. Florida State, the first no-hitter ever thrown against the Seminoles, and this was not one of those no-hitters featuring an abundance of line-drive outs and shoestring catches. Harvey dominated the Seminoles that day. In his first two seasons, he was easily one of the best pitchers in the ACC, winning 16 games with a combined ERA of 2.88. Statistically, he was not as dominant as a junior and senior, but he still ranked among the conference’s best and most respected pitchers. His ERA ballooned to 5.16 in ’94 and 4.77 in ’95, although that was in large part due to a bullpen that head coach Ray Tanner was reluctant to call on, especially with his ace on the mound. To his credit, the only stat Harvey cared about was winning, and he absorbed more than a few meaningless late-inning runs for the good of the team. He was the Wolfpack’s unquestioned ace in 1993, ’94 and ’95, and was a workhorse throughout his career. He pitched at least 96 innings all four seasons and cleared the 100-inning mark three times, averaging nearly seven innings per start his last three years. For his career, he averaged fewer than three walks and more than eight strikeouts per nine innings. He is one of just four NC State pitchers ever to win 10 or more games in a season twice, and fell one win shy of a trifecta when he won nine games with a mediocre (to put it charitably) team as a senior in 1995. Over the course of Harvey’s four-year career, the numbers piled up. He finished his time at NC State as the school’s career leader in wins (35), innings pitched (426), games started (60) and strikeouts (386). Carlos Rodon blew past him in career strikeouts by 50 in his three-year career, but Harvey still holds the career records for wins, innings and starts. He ranks fifth in ACC history in wins, fourth in innings and ninth in strikeouts. His 10 wins in both 1993 and ’94 are tied for ninth in school history for a single season, and his 1995 season included career highs of 17 starts (tied for 6th in school history), 120 innings pitched (6th) and 131 strikeouts (6th). Harvey not only was a standout on the mound, he also started at quarterback for the Wolfpack football team for three seasons, making him one of the greatest two-sport athletes in school history. In 2003, he was voted to the ACC’s 50-man 50th Anniversary team.

• Second Team — Brett Black (1996-97)
Brett Black defied almost every stereotype of a successful starting pitcher. If you ask the scouts, they’ll tell you their ideal starter would: a.) stand about 6-foot-5 with a lean, projectable body, b.) throw real hard, c.) throw at least one good offspeed pitch, and d.) throw strikes. Black barely stood 6-feet tall. He was listed at 201 pounds but weighed well north of that. He basically threw one pitch, a mid-80s fastball. The one thing Black did that most successful pitchers do was throw strikes. He pounded the strike zone. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio was 7.24-to-1, including an 8.91-to-1 mark as a senior in 1997. At one point in 1997, he faced 143 consecutive batters without issuing a walk, and when he broke that streak it was with an intentional pass (ironic, considering head coach Elliott Avent’s utter disdain for intentional walks). We’ve already discussed the misleading nature of won-lost records. Good starting pitchers frequently get punished with undeserved losses (see Carlos Rodon in 2014). Poor run support will do that. With that said, however, bad starters seldom get rewarded with undeserved wins because bad starting pitchers seldom last the five innings required to qualify for a W. Coaches, especially Avent, just don’t have the patience, or the stomach, for it. So when a pitcher piles up the wins in near-record-setting fashion, the odds are he’s pitching pretty well. Such was the case with Brett Black. He is one of just four Wolfpack pitchers — along with Matt Donahue, Terry Harvey and Jeff Hartsock — ever to win 10 or more games in a season twice. He is one of just three — along with Donahue (twice) and Michael Rogers — to win 12 or more games in a single season (12-3 in 1996), giving him 22 wins in his two-year career. Black made 39 career appearances, 31 of them starts, and threw 13 complete games, tied for fifth most in school history. In 238 2/3 innings, he allowed 237 hits, struck out 210 and walked just 29. Of all the starting pitchers considered for this team, Brett Black is the only one to pitch 100 or more innings in a season and walk fewer than 20. And he did it twice. He averaged 7.92 strikeouts and just 1.09 walks per nine innings for his career, and did it throwing about 90 percent fastballs. Clemson came to NC State in mid-April 1997, and Black pitched the second game of the series. As the late Bob Bradley, longtime Clemson SID and still the Tigers’ baseball SID in ’97, told the story, then-head coach Jack Leggett lectured his hitters on the bus ride to Doak Field, telling them that Black threw almost all fastballs, mostly in the mid-80s, and rarely issued a walk. The message, Leggett said, was be aggressive, look for something early in the count, and swing. Get too selective and he’ll bury you. So much for following the scouting report. I don’t remember all the particulars of the game, but Black pitched into the eighth inning, threw almost all fastballs, and struck out 10, eight of them looking, in a 17-4 laugher for the Wolfpack. That was Brett Black in a nutshell. He may not have looked like the prototypical dominant starting pitcher, but in a results-driven game, he absolutely pitched like one.

• Second Team — Jeff Hartsock (1986-88)
Jeff Hartsock was NC State’s best pitcher of the 1980s, and nearly 30 years since pitching his last game in a Wolfpack uniform he still ranks as one of the school’s all-time greats. A slender righthander from Fairfield, Ohio, Hartsock was a workhorse from the very start, winning eight, 10 and 11 games, respectively, and leaving his name all over the school record book. He ranks third in school history with 29 wins, second with 24 complete games, fourth with 316 1/3 innings pitched, sixth with 266 strikeouts, and tied for eighth with 42 games started. He is one of just four pitchers in school history — along with Mike Caldwell, Joey Devine and Carlos Rodon — to earn All-ACC honors three times. He helped lead NC State to three consecutive NCAA regional appearances for the first since since 1973-75, and was the unquestioned staff ace all three years. He is one of just four pitchers in school history — along with Matt Donahue, Terry Harvey and Brett Black — to win 10 games or more in a season twice. He and Caldwell are the only pitchers in Wolfpack history to lead the ACC in complete games three times. Hartsock was first-team all-conference and a Freshman All-American in 1986 after compiling an 8-3 record with a 3.07 ERA. He completed nine of his 13 starts, worked 99 2/3 innings and struck out 81 with 31 walks. The nine complete games tied Caldwell’s school record for freshmen, a record that will likely stand forever. For some perspective, NC State pitchers threw just nine complete games over the last five years combined. A year later, Hartsock went 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA, completed eight of 13 starts, pitched 98 innings and struck out 84 with 30 walks. His 10 wins that year are tied for ninth in the school record book. Again, he was first-team all-conference. Hartsock had his best season as a junior, setting a then-school record with 11 wins (tied that same year by teammate Brad Rhodes). He finished with an 11-3 record, a 2.88 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings, all career bests. He completed seven of 16 starts. And somehow that only got him second-team All-ACC. Go figure. The Los Angeles Dodgers thought enough of Hartsock to select him in the seventh round of the 1988 MLB Draft. He reached the big leagues for four games in 1992 with the Chicago Cubs.

• Second Team — Michael Rogers (2002-04)
Mike Rogers and Vern Sterry will always be joined at the hip in Wolfpack baseball lore. In 2003 and ’04, they formed one of the most formidable 1-2 pitching punches in college baseball, winning 41 games between them those two seasons, making them the winningest pair of teammates in consecutive seasons in NC State program history. During their two-year reign, Sterry and Rogers (or Rogers and Sterry, if you prefer) pitched the Wolfpack to its first top 10 ranking in a decade (No. 2 in late April and early May 2003), a pair of NCAA regionals, and its first-ever NCAA Super Regional (2003 at Coral Gables). Rogers, who made seven appearances and six starts as a true freshman in 2002 (3-2, 3.63) before being sidelined with an injury, became just the third (and still the most recent) pitcher in school history to win 12 or more games in a season — along with Matt Donahue (twice) and Brett Black — when he went 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 2003. He started 17 games, worked 125 innings and struck out 113 with 34 walks. The 17 starts is tied for sixth in school history while the 125 innings ranks fourth. He earned second-team All-ACC and third-team All-America honors, joining Sterry and closer Joey Devine as the first and only trio of NC State pitchers to earn All-America in the same season. A year later, with much of the ’03 team’s offensive firepower either drafted or graduated, Rogers pitched much better yet won three fewer games, posting a 9-4 record with a 3.08 ERA. He again made 17 starts, worked 117 innings (9th in school annals) and struck out 110 with just 21 walks. He held opponents to a career-low .209 batting average. On May 15, 2004, Rogers and Sterry each pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout in a doubleheader sweep of defending national champion Texas, in Austin. The Longhorns entered play that week ranked No. 1 nationally. To this day, that is the only time Texas has ever been shut out in both games of a doubleheader at home. Rogers finished his career with a 24-9 record and a 3.13 ERA. He made 42 appearances and 40 starts, pitched 281 2/3 innings and struck out 264. He is tied for seventh in school history in wins, tied for sixth in innings pitched, tied for 10th in starts and is seventh all by himself in strikeouts. The Oakland Athletics selected Rogers in the second round of the 2004 MLB Draft. He advanced as high as Double-A in 2006 and ’07 before finishing his professional career with a couple of season in independent baseball.

• Second Team — Vern Sterry (2003-04)

Vern Sterry was the first starting pitcher in program history to earn first-team All-America honors, turning the trick in 2003 when he went 11-0 with a 3.25 ERA and 124 strikeouts (7th most in a single season by a Wolfpack pitcher) in 116 1/3 innings (10th). He made 17 starts (tied for 6th) and held opposing hitters to a .230 batting average. Sterry was the first Wolfpack starter ever to begin a season by winning his first 10 decisions, and remains so to this day. His 11-0 mark in ’03 represents the school record for consecutive wins in a single season, and while won-lost record for a pitcher is often misleading, that is not the case with Sterry. Week in and week out, he gave his team a chance to win. Just three times in 17 starts as a junior in ’03 did he fail to pitch at least six innings. He allowed more than three earned runs in a start just four times. The Wolfpack won 15 of his 17 starts, with both of the two losses getting away long after Sterry handed the ball off to the bullpen. A year later, he went 9-2 with a 2.20 ERA and a .220 opponents’ batting average, with pretty much the same line of secondary stats. He made 16 starts and pitched at least six innings in all but two of them. He allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice. He won the first five decisions of his senior campaign to run his winning streak to 16 games, a school record that still stands. NC State won 11 of his 16 starts. Sterry’s name does not appear often in the school record book, in large part because, as a juco transfer, he was only here two years. While he finished his career with a 20-2 record and a 2.73 ERA, his 20 wins do not rank in the school’s career top 10 list, falling three wins short. It should be noted, however, that every NC State pitcher with more career wins than Sterry pitched at least three seasons, with the exception of Matt Donahue (27 wins in 1991-92) and Brett Black (22 wins in 1996-97). Sterry’s greatest day in a Wolfpack uniform came on May 15, 2004, when he and Mike Rogers each pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout in a doubleheader sweep of then-top-ranked and defending national champion Texas, in Austin. To this day, it is the only time Texas has ever been shut out in both games of a doubleheader at home, and that sweep probably pushed NC State off the bubble and into the 2004 NCAA Tournament. A craftsman on the mound, Sterry seldom threw his fastball at maximum velocity, usually pitching in the upper 80s and relying on a solid curveball and a changeup that seemed to die of exhaustion on its way to home plate. Many area scouts graded Sterry’s changeup a 65 or even a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, which is almost unheard of. Opposing hitters knew all about the Sterry changeup. Knowing about it and hitting it, of course, were two different things.