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Redshirt senior pitcher Abby Trahan winds up against Virginia Tech on Sunday, March 14, 2021 at Dail Softball Stadium. Trahan pitched two innings, giving up nine earned runs on seven hits while striking out two. The Wolfpack lost 17-4.

The NC State softball team takes on the Pittsburgh Panthers in its next series in preparation for a tough nonconference showdown with the No. 6 LSU Tigers to follow. Given that the Wolfpack is sitting half a game below .500 in ACC play, let’s have a look at what can be taken away from its season thus far.

Big batting numbers keep NC State afloat

The Pack (17-11, 10-11 ACC) sits atop the ACC in many key batting categories. On the power side, NC State leads the conference in home runs by a large margin with 47 bombs. Georgia Tech trails at second in this category at 35, with the distance between these top two equaling the distance between the Yellow Jackets and eighth-place Louisville. 

NC State also leads the ACC in slugging percentage at .548, the highest mark of the three ACC schools with a team slugging over .500.

The Wolfpack has also exercised its plate discipline very well, earning top marks in the conference in on-base percentage and walks. The Pack sports the only team on-base percentage over .400 in the ACC, and its conference-leading 116 walks bests three other teams with over 100 walks on the season.

NC State also ranks nationally in quite a few offense categories, including a peculiar knack for the No. 23 spot in the nation. This is where the Wolfpack ranks in stolen bases per game, slugging percentage and on-base percentage on the national stage. The Pack’s power hitting also earned it a top-10 spot in home runs per game at No. 8.

Inaccurate pitching is holding back Pack

With these impressive batting numbers, it poses the questions of how NC State isn’t near the top of the ACC. Surely such a potent offense could carry its team to victory more often than not? Why does the Wolfpack have a below-.500 record in conference play?

And then the pitching numbers show up, and that question is answered.

NC State ranks in the bottom four in the ACC in ERA, walks allowed, home runs allowed, wild pitches and hit batters. Looking closer into these totals, the Pack seems to rely on swing-and-miss stuff that does more harm than good due to inaccuracy. 

The Wolfpack’s low-tier numbers in allowing walks and home runs, throwing wild pitches and hitting opposing batters seem to indicate an underlying control issue. NC State’s pitching staff has notched 155 strikeouts this season, and only 28 of those strikeouts have caught batters looking. These 127 swinging strikeouts induced by Pack pitchers are overshadowed by 37 hit batters, 15 wild pitches, 26 home runs allowed and 79 walks allowed, which amount to 220 total bases. Simply put, NC State needs to be more accurate from the pitcher’s circle. 

Emerging platoon players give Wolfpack hope

Despite the Pack’s struggles on the pitching side of the game, the already solid production from hitters like redshirt junior infielder Randi Farricker and redshirt senior center fielder Angie Rizzi is being better supplemented by emerging players such as redshirt junior catcher Madeline Curtis, redshirt freshman Libby Whittaker and freshman right-handed pitcher Brooklyn Lucero. 

Even with the caveat of a small sample size of only six at-bats in six games, Curtis has been hitting the cover off of the ball with an OPS of 1.571 spurred by a pinch-hit home run against North Carolina A&T on April 2. Whittaker will also look to continue her performance from that series against the Aggies, where she went 4-6 with a home run over the course of two games. 

Not to be left out, the pitching staff has also seen some help from the bullpen in the form of Lucero, who currently boasts a statline with a 2.10 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP over 13.1 innings pitched in seven appearances. Lucero and freshman southpaw Estelle Czech have both proved valuable to NC State’s pitching with sub-3.00 ERAs.

With the LSU series coming soon and No. 18 Clemson and No. 7 Florida State on the horizon, NC State softball will need these upstart players to ignite better production from the inconsistent starting pitcher and the lackluster bottom third of the lineup to make a postseason push.