Coming into the 2022 season, the Wolfpack baseball team is ranked as high as No. 7 in preseason polls, and its pitching staff is a strong part of why. Returning sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Willadsen as a weekend starter is a big reason many are excited about this NC State baseball team.
Willadsen started 13 of his 18 appearances last season and was 5-3 on the year with a 4.73 ERA in 83.2 innings pitched. Willadsen was a crucial part down the stretch of the regular season where he pitched a complete-game shutout against Boston College and recorded 28 outs in a doubleheader against UNC-Chapel Hill.
These performances earned him the opportunity to pitch in the ACC Championship game, NCAA Regionals and the NCAA Super Regional-clinching game at Arkansas. Willadsen was scheduled to pitch against Vanderbilt in the College World Series, before the NCAA canceled that game.
“Last year, he and [sophomore left-handed pitcher] Chris Villaman grew up during the season as much as I’ve ever seen two players mature during the season,” said NC State head coach Elliott Avent during media day on Feb. 9.
One of the things Willadsen wanted to improve on in the offseason was fastball velocity. To address this, the Holly Springs, North Carolina native trained at Driveline Baseball in Washington.
“I thought it was pretty good being around the same type of people who want to take it up to the next level just like I do,” Willadsen said.
After a strong freshman season, @MattWilladsen was offered an opportunity to play in the Cape this Summer.With his velocity around “84-90” throughout the season, he came to Driveline, trained by @LanginTots13.On Monday, he sat 92-93 in his MoCap Retest 👀 pic.twitter.com/8n1zLNwYtn— Driveline Baseball (@DrivelineBB) August 13, 2021
Going into last season, Willadsen had to earn his spot as a weekend starter, but after a great 2021 season, it's up to him to prove that he was not just a one-season wonder. D1Baseball.com ranked Willadsen as the 37th-best starting pitcher in the country going into the season.
“[Willadsen’s] focus on baseball now is totally — I don’t know how I can define it being different — just locked in on baseball,” Avent said.
Willadsen came to NC State as a two-way player, but after his COVID-shortened freshman 2020 season, he began to focus on being a pitcher only, a decision that has turned out well so far during his collegiate career.
“[Willadsen] came in as a two-way player, he quickly made a decision as [sophomore right-handed pitcher Sam Highfill] did, to be a pitcher only,” Avent said. “I think both of those guys see themselves pitching in the big leagues one day.”
A good pitching staff can take a team a long way in baseball, but the offensive production needs to be there too. As confident as he is in himself, Willadsen believes in his teammates as well.
“I think we do have all the pieces that fit right in order to win the ACC Championship, but a lot of things need to fall in place for that to happen,” Willadsen said. “I’m excited to see what can happen.”
Expect Willadsen to get his first start of the season this Saturday, Feb. 19 or Sunday, Feb. 20 during NC State’s opening series of the season against Evansville.