Following its best start in program history, the NC State softball team was on fire entering its second ACC series of 2020 in early March. With a strong outlook for the rest of the season that probably would have led to another ACC tournament berth, the question was not whether the team would go far; it was how far would it would go.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that question will be left unanswered. All ACC sports were suspended on March 12 due to the outbreak and ultimately cancelled the next week on March 17.
Now that the season is technically over, the facts show just how great of a season it really was and could have continued to be. The Wolfpack received votes for the top 25 rankings in both the USA Today and Team USA final 2020 lists. Sophomore pitcher Sydney Nester and senior outfielder Tatyana Forbes were both listed in the Softball America top 100 rankings, and both were ranked high in the country with individual honors. Nester concluded the season ranked 21st in the nation with 10 wins, and she was second in strikeouts in the ACC with 89. Forbes wrapped up her season ranked second in the nation in hits with 43, fifth in the country in batting average with a .538 and eighth in on-base-percentage with a .593.
Coming straight off two double-header wins against Norfolk State and a six-game winning streak on its side, the Wolfpack was red-hot heading up to Blacksburg to take on its second ACC opponent of the season. Virginia Tech was having an excellent 2020 as well, and this series probably would have been the Pack’s biggest test of the rest of the regular season, other than possibly Clemson. With both teams proving to be strong offensive threats with excellent pitching, it didn't look like this series would be a sweep either way, but whoever came out with two wins as opposed to one would be very thankful when it came time for ACC tournament rankings.
As for the rest of 2020, the season continued to look bright with a few minor bumps in the road. There were plenty of winnable games ahead, including a doubleheader against NC Central, who had only won one game so far, a midweek matchup against inconsistent Furman University and another game against North Carolina A&T, who the Pack already beat twice in 2020 during the NC State invitational. ACC foes like UNC-Chapel Hill and Louisville always pose a threat, even though most teams NC State was slated to play in the remainder of 2020 weren’t having winning seasons. Clemson would have been the Pack’s other big test of the season, with a 19-8 record at the pause and no signs of letting up. This series was supposed to be the weekend following the Virginia Tech series with only a matchup against East Carolina in between, really making these six games key points for the postseason outlook.
Obviously, with the limited amount of ACC ball that was played, it's hard to tell how the postseason would have gone. If the Wolfpack were able to continue its momentum, it would have been guaranteed a spot in the ACC tournament, and depending on the outcomes of the series against Virginia Tech and Clemson, the Pack could have been one of the top three seeds. There was also a fairly good chance the Wolfpack could have received a berth to the NCAA Women’s College World Series. Time could only tell how far NC State would advance there, but if it continued its consistency, the Wolfpack was guaranteed some success in the postseason.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. With the announcement of an extra year of eligibility for 2020 seniors, that means outfielder Brigette Nordberg, infielder Skylar Johnston and outfielder Angie Rizzi can all come back and finish their softball careers on their own terms. This is also great news for Forbes, who transferred to NC State from Florida International to complete her senior season. Time will only tell if these ladies choose to return, but with the addition of many new recruits in 2021, adding some extra leadership would definitely be beneficial for the team.
Head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift has been working hard on implementing her “home run mindset” into this NC State softball team, and 2020 seems to be the year it's paid off. It’s very unfortunate we won’t be able to see the conclusion of this impressive season, but 2021 is sure to be exciting as well.