The last few years have been chock-full of heartbreak and disappointment in the postseason for the NC State baseball team.
Late-inning blown leads, NCAA Regional Championship losses and poor showings in the ACC Baseball Championship are just a few of the issues that have plagued NC State in May and June the last few years.
While the players have come and gone and teams are different every year, one thing has remained the same throughout this historic run of postseason failure: head coach Elliott Avent.
Since arriving in Raleigh in 1997, Avent has experienced his fair share of success at NC State. The Wolfpack advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2003, 2008 and 2012, and all the way to the College World Series in 2013.
Avent has guided the Wolfpack to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 15 years, solidifying NC State as a familiar face in the NCAA Tournament, and a regional bid has become the norm in Raleigh.
But as Harvey Dent famously said in "The Dark Knight," you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Losing back-to-back games to TCU in the 2015 Fort Worth Regional championship that included blowing an 8-1 seventh-inning lead, blowing a 5-3 ninth-inning lead to Coastal Carolina in the 2016 Raleigh Regional championship, losing back-to-back games to Kentucky in the 2017 Lexington Regional championship and losing its opening game against Army in the 2018 Raleigh Regional as a No. 1 seed have all soured Avent’s once-sterling reputation.
More recently, the Pack went 0-2 in the NCAA Greenville Regional, which started with a disappointing opening-game loss to in-state opponent Campbell. Then, in an elimination game, NC State fell to in-state rival ECU, where Avent pulled pitcher Jason Parker after just 2.1 innings pitched.
Although he let two runners into scoring position in the second and two runners on base in the third, Parker had five strikeouts, and with the bullpen’s immense struggles in recent games leading up, pulling Parker didn’t seem like the right choice in the moment and didn’t pay off, as the bullpen allowed seven runs in 6.2 innings of work.
With the past five years of struggles culminating in an embarrassing elimination-game loss to rival ECU, the high of the decade’s early success is quickly wearing off.
The Wolfpack’s postseason struggles in the last five years haven’t been confined to just the NCAA Tournament, however.
Outside of a run to the ACC Championship game in 2015, Avent’s Wolfpack squads are 3-8 in ACC Tournament games since 2013, and in Avent’s 23 years in Raleigh, NC State has not won a single ACC regular season or tournament championship, the longest active streak in NCAA Baseball. Since the ACC separated into two divisions in 2006, the Wolfpack has yet to finish in first place in the ACC Atlantic.
His postseason success in the 2000s and first few years of the 2010s earned Avent more than a few years of well-deserved leniency with regard to postseason struggles, but after five years in a row of failures and disappointment, it seems as if Avent’s earned leniency is quickly running its course.
Avent deserves as much credit as possible for picking up where former coach Ray Tanner left off in 1997 and transforming NC State into a perennial top-25 team and ACC contender. The regular season success of the Wolfpack hasn’t been an issue for a while, but for a school that has expectations of deep postseason runs in nearly all 23 varsity sports, a six-year streak of failing to advance past the first round is unacceptable.
The “hot-take” reaction, albeit lazy, for fanbases dealing with a disappointing season would be calling for the firing of a coach, but simply letting a coach go without an adequate replacement plan is both short-sighted and incredibly reactionary, and it brings with it the risk of setting the program back a few years.
If the NC State Athletics Department is going to even consider the possibility of letting go the longest-tenured head coach in NC State baseball history, a seamless transition into a well-thought-out replacement plan is vital.
It is up to the athletics department how it will handle the baseball program’s latest postseason failure, but if the team doesn’t begin showing successful postseason results soon, change could be coming.