2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 16 North Carolina State

Image credit: NC State RHP Sam Highfill (Photo courtesy of NC State)

Last season: 37-19 (19-14 in ACC); reached College World Series
Final Ranking: No. 4
Coach (record at school): Elliot Avent (926-550, 25 seasons)

The good news: NC State did well on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal leading up to the 2022 season, which keeps the talent level among position players high, even after losing seven starters at the end of last season to pro baseball. Catcher Jacob Cozart, shortstop Payton Green and projected DH Tommy White are three of the best players who arrived as part of NC State’s 11th-ranked recruiting class, with Green and White both top-200 prospects in last year’s draft. First baseman Gino Groover and right fielder Dom Pilolli were important pieces of a regional team at Charlotte last season, and Penn transfer third baseman Josh Hood was a freshman All-American in 2019 before losing most of the last two seasons due to the pandemic. Combined with returners like fifth-year senior second baseman JT Jarrett, fifth-year senior center fielder Devonte Brown and third-year sophomore left fielder Noah Soles, and taking into account NC State’s long track record of putting excellent lineups on the field, you have to assume this will be a group that can score runs in bunches and play clean defense. The Wolfpack also have a proven 1-2 punch in the rotation with third-year sophomore righthanders Sam Highfill and Matt Willadsen, plus third-year sophomore lefthander Chris Villaman in the bullpen, who could end up being what Evan Justice was for the NC State bullpen last season. 


The bad news: Last season’s CWS team was a veteran group that had played a lot of games together, so not only was it talented, but the team chemistry was excellent and it knew what to expect from each other. That won’t be the case with the 2022 team, which will have to learn how to win as a group on the fly. If it faces the same kind of adversity that last season’s team did early on, will it be able to bounce back as forcefully? That remains to be seen with a team as inexperienced as this one. NC State will also have some things to prove as far as pitching depth goes. Last season, it largely rode its top five arms through the postseason. It obviously worked brilliantly, and three of those top arms return for 2022 in Highfill, Willadsen and Villaman, but this could be an area of concern if any of those three takes a step back or injuries hit. Junior college transfer righthander Logan Adams and fifth-year senior lefthander David Harrison will look to provide depth among starting pitchers, with slot-shifting freshman righthander Carson Kelly likely to serve as a top bullpen option alongside Villaman. Pitching staffs are fluid as the season goes on, but having at least a couple of newcomers emerge as impact pitchers right away would be huge. 

Player to know: Sam Highfill, RHP

Highfill really took an opportunity in the weekend rotation and ran with it last season, going 9-2, 3.66 in 93.1 innings. He works with a fastball that sits in the low 90s but can touch the mid 90s with a changeup and a mid-70s breaking ball. His 2021 season also provided a signature moment with his performance against Vanderbilt in Omaha, where he threw 7.1 shutout innings, giving up two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in a 1-0 Wolfpack win. Over the summer, Highfill pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team alongside Villaman and under the tutelage of Avent, who managed the club, and he will go into 2022 as a realistic candidate for ACC pitcher of the year honors should he take another step forward. 

Path to Omaha: How well this inexperienced team that was rebuilt almost completely over one offseason responds to the inevitable adversity that comes with any season will be a big thing. If it flounders and never quite regains its stride, perhaps this is simply a solid regional team and little more. But there’s enough talent in place that if this team jells and gets stronger after taking some punches, it could make another deep postseason run to Omaha, especially if the talented freshmen in the lineup are big contributors for the stretch run and Highfill and Willadsen are turning in quality starts in the way that Highfill and Reid Johnston were doing down the stretch last season.

2022 Lineup

C Jacob Cozart Fr.
HS—High Point, N.C.
1B Gino Groover So.
2B JT Jarrett R-Sr. .251 .341 .333 195 1 23
3B Josh Hood R-Jr.
SS Payton Green Fr.
HS—Cary, N.C.
LF Noah Soles R-So. .207 .324 .241 29 0 2
CF Devonte Brown R-Sr. .252 .363 .500 202 13 40
RF Dom Pilolli R-So.
DH Tommy White Fr.
HS—St. Pete Beach, Fla.
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Sam Highfill R-So. 9 2 3.66 93 84 0
RHP Matt Willadsen R-So. 5 3 4.73 84 72 0
RHP Logan Adams R-So.
Transfer—JC of Central Florida
RP Carson Kelly Fr.
HS—Sanford, N.C.
RP Chris Villaman R-So. 5 2 4.35 60 71 2

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