COLUMBIA, SC — NC State  veteran baseball coach Elliott Avent always will remember the phone call he received from Ray Tanner, the former head coach at NC State, when Avent was hired as the Wolfpack’s mentor 27 years ago.

“I was thinking, ‘what is going to say,” Avent said Thursday. “All he said was, ‘don’t screw it up.’ And then he hung up.”

Avent recalled some anecdotes of his former skipper and current South Carolina athletic director as well as another baseball legend during a press conference Thursday afternoon. NC State and host South Carolina are 2 of the 4 teams in a NCAA Regional Friday at Founders Park.

Rivals on the field, forever friends off it.

No. 3 NC State will meet Campbell University at 1 p.m. Top-seeded South Carolina will play No. 4 Central Connecticut State University at 7 p.m. There’s no guarantee NC State and South Carolina will meet this weekend, but the chances are good that they’ll have a say in whether the other advances.

This presser simply wasn’t about pitching rotations for the tournament or the ebbs and flows of the regular season. It also wasn’t about the usual dropping of baseball cliches and blather.

Instead, this was a session that also included an appreciation of mentors and the game.

Avent expressed how he still relishes all the moments and remains grateful for the opportunity that has shaped his life.

Despite the years, the bond and respect between the two Carolina-based programs is tight.

“Ray (Tanner) is an old friend,” Avent said. “But he is a friend for life. He gave me a chance and picked me to be on his staff. I learned so much about the game in a short time. This is such a great place for baseball. People love the game here.

“When I was hired, I was scared to death to follow him.”

He also rekindled the road that brought him to his current state, noting his experiences with NC State legendary baseball coach Sam Esposito, who spun a highly successful career for 20 years.

“This never gets old,” Avent beamed. “It’s exciting. … It was great to come here again. When I was at NC State, being with Sam Esposito was very special. Ray and I welcomed his son here to watch the games.”

Avent recalled how Esposito helped shape his life and many others.

“Coach Esposito was the Godfather of NC State Athletics,” Avent said. “He was at the root of much of the athletics department’s success stories during the 1970s and 1980s. Nearly every morning at around 5:30 (a.m.), coaches would gather in coach Esposito’s office for counsel and advice.

“He touched so many lives at the school. You learned how to coach and deal with people. And he had a hand in so many sports. He was an assistant coach on Norm Sloan’s staff when he won the national championship (in 1974). He also was very close to Jim Valvano and other coaches.

“We coaches who have been around for a while owe a lot of gratitude toward Coach Esposito.”

Aside from the rehashing of memories, Avent stated that his team is “right where we want to be.”

The Wolfpack are making their 33rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and the first since they advanced to the College World Series in 2021.

Omaha is always on every baseball team’s mind, but the Wolfpack first must survive the field in Columbia. Then, this region will be paired with Florida, Florida A&M, Connecticut, and Texas Tech, all of the teams in the Gainesville Regional for the Super Regional round.

Logan Whitaker will take the ball for the Wolfpack Friday afternoon. He has a 5-3 record with a 4.54 ERA and has 75 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.

Cannon Peebles is hitting a team-high .346 and leads the team in home runs (12) and tied for the lead in RBIs (48). LuJames Groover has a .332 average and had 11 homers and 48 RBIs.

“It’s great being here,” Groover said. “We missed out on our opportunity last year. We feel we have a lot of experience, and we would like to get on the board first. But it’s really just about being here.”

Win or lose, Avent certainly knows it is about being here.

“I’m charging everything I have here to Ray,” Avent said. “I went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House last night, and I told them to put it on his tab.”

Around Founders Park, there is a feeling that neither man would mind it.