RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State waited a long time to make it back to the College World Series. It only makes it sweeter that the first opponent will be the Wolfpack's hated rival.
N.C. State (49-14) is leaving for Omaha on Wednesday, the program's first trip to the CWS since 1968 and just the second overall. Its opener comes Sunday against North Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
The last time the teams met, the Tar Heels won 2-1 in 18 innings over Memorial Day weekend in the longest game in Atlantic Coast Conference tournament history.
"It definitely is meaningful because we owe them another game," N.C. State senior Tarran Senay said. "We owe them our best. It's going to be tough, but it's going to be fun. It's a big one."
The Wolfpack advanced to Omaha with two one-run wins against Rice in last weekend's super regionals here. In the second game, N.C. State had to rally from three down in the ninth before finally winning 5-4 in 17 innings in the longest super regional game ever.
It was a breakthrough for a program that has reached the NCAA tournament in 10 of 11 years and reached the super regionals three times during that span. N.C. State had lost at Miami in 2003, Georgia in 2008 and Florida last year in what amounted to the same frustrating roadblock.
N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said he went right back to work preparing for Omaha after the Rice win. But he gave his players two days off to savor the moment while he started sorting through the congratulatory messages from former players.
"It's been a process," Avent said of the Wolfpack's climb. "Every person from Joey Devine to Aaron Bates and every person that I've heard from ... the phone calls, the text messages, the tweets, the emails, it's just been so special because everyone knows they've been a part of this."
Avent has 648 wins in his 17 seasons and became the program's winningest coach in 2010, passing Sam Esposito — the coach who led the 1968 team to its only previous College World Series.
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