NC State holds the nation’s longest winning streak and has moved up to No. 6 in the rankings this week, just in time to host No. 1 North Carolina in one of the biggest series in the history of the long rivalry.
The big reason why the Pack has climbed back up the rankings after a rough start to the season – an unassuming sophomore who’s taken the leap from a record-setting speedster to one of the best hitters in the nation.
Trea Turner was hardly an unknown coming into the season – he was a Freshman All-American last season and led the nation with 57 stolen bases while also ranking in the top 10 nationally in runs. He was the spark plug at the top of the order for the Pack, getting on base over 40 percent of the time and wreaking havoc once he got there.
But Turner himself couldn’t have predicted the kind of impact he’d have on the Pack offense this season – or what his absence would do to a team ranked in the preseason top 10.
When Turner sprained his ankle against Clemson on March 8th, on the final play of the game no less, it was clearly a big loss for the Pack. But no one realized how big until the Pack offense collapsed against a tough schedule and without its lead-off hitter. The Pack would go on to lose six of its next 11 games over the next three weeks while Turner healed; averaging just four runs a game over that period.
Once Turner did finally return to the starting line-up, in a mid-week game at UNC-Wilmington, it provided a spark that the Pack has yet to come down from.
With Turner in the line-up, the Pack is 28-4 and averaging over seven and a half runs a game. Now, the drastic difference is not entirely because of Turner – the Pack did face both Clemson and Virginia during that 11-game stretch. But it’s telling that the Pack offense performed so poorly without him in the line-up - topping the five run mark just once over that span.
|With Turner||Without Turner|
|Runs per Game||7.4||4.3|
|Walks per Game||4.5||2.7|
Turner made headlines last year because of his speed, but he’s become a much more complete hitter this season. He leads the ACC in batting average by a mile – hitting .438 while no one else in the league is batting over .400 – and hitting over .100 points higher than he did as a freshman. To top that off, he’s hitting for more power as well – he’s got 18 extra base hits compared to 20 in twice as many at-bats last year.
In short, Turner has become the best hitter in the ACC as just a sophomore. And when he doesn’t play well, the Pack doesn’t score runs. The North Carolina game-plan this weekend will start with keeping him off the bases. Kent Emanuel, who boasts an 1.81 ERA, will be the first in line to try and cool down Turner when he takes the hill on Friday night to face off against the Pack’s Ryan Wilkins. Saturday will be a showdown between sophomores Carlos Rodon, who was moved to the Saturday spot last week and pitched a complete game against Georgia Tech, and Benton Moss, who is a perfect 7-0 but boasts the highest ERA of all the Carolina starters at 2.81. The series will wrap up Sunday afternoon as freshman Brad Stone takes on junior lefty Hobbs Johnson.