‘It was hard’ – NC State players, coach open up about COVID-19 outbreak, Omaha exit

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The disappointment of North Carolina State’s exit from the College World Series still lingers for freshman pitcher Sam Highfill.

“Yeah, it sucks, it did,” Highfill said. “There’s nothing that we can do about it. Just try to keep a positive attitude. It’s good to be back on the field.”

N.C. State was one win from advancing to the championship series when a COVID-19 outbreak within the team meant the end of its season.

For Highfill, Wolfpack teammate Chris Villaman, and head coach Elliot Avent, the sting from Omaha is tempered by their involvement in the 2021 Collegiate National Team.

“It was hard. It was hard when they took us out of the tournament,” Highfill said. “But to be back out here just a week later, it feels good, it’s nice to be back to playing the sport I love.”

Highfill doesn’t have to look far for support.

“Yeah, me and Sam both missed it, so it’s good to be back out here playing,” Villaman said. “It’s a blessing to be around these guys and I’m just learning from everyone, trying to make myself better as well.”

Part of making one’s self better is dealing with the ups and downs of a sport known for just that. Still, the battle scars that define baseball are usually earned on the field, not off.

“I’m dealing good because you’re taking care of your players,” Avent said. “You take care of your players who are hurting and I’m hurting, too. But when your kids are hurting, you can’t hurt. I’ll think about it later, but just sad to see what happened out in Omaha.”

For Avent and his two young stars, they’ve got other things on their mind for now. The pride of wearing the red, white, and blue is the perfect way to ease the pain.

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