One of the #ncstateshittiest weekends in recent memory extended beyond the hardwood to the diamond this weekend, as the Pack Nine's best player suffered a serious injury and their ace was bombed as the Pack dropped the first two of a weekend set against Clemson. N. C. State did rally to forestall total doom on Sunday, salvaging the third game of the series, 4-1.
Trea Turner homered for the fifth time this year but suffered an ankle sprain that left him in a walking boot while trying to leg out an infield hit in Friday's game. Turner, a preseason all-American and the most important cog in N. C. State's offense, will return in mid to late April with a .464/.522/.893 triple slash line. He's perfect in eight stolen base attempts this season.
Turner's home run and a two-run shot from Will Nance helped stake the Pack (12-4, 1-2) to a 4-0 lead in Friday's opener. Carlos Rodon, who like Turner was a preseason all-American selection and is touted by scouts as a future first round pick, was cruising through three innings. Then the wheels came off. Rodon allowed a light-hitting Clemson (9-5, 2-1) squad to score three in the fourth and five more before he was chased in the fifth. Rodon's eight runs and eight hits allowed were more than he had given up combined in his first three outings. The big lefty suffered his second loss of the season after going a perfect 9-0 during last year's freshman campaign.
Garrett Boulware did most of the damage for the Tigers, going 4-for-5 with his first two home runs of the season. The Clemson backstop scored three times and drove in five runs.
The trend of bad starting pitching continued Saturday as the normally steady Ethan Ogburn failed to record an out in the second inning. The Tigers plated five in the second and held on to win despite getting outhit 16-6. Of course who needs hits when you benefit from nine free passes and two hit batters. All those walks can mean only one thing: Anthony Tzamtzis pitched. Tzamtzis issued five free passes and plunked Thomas Brittle twice in five and a third innings of relief. Despite the typical wildness, Tzamtzis lowered his season ERA from 54.00 to 11.37. Progress.
Brittle's grand slam in the second was the big offensive blow for the Tigers and may or may not have contributed to his becoming a ball magnet in subsequent at bats. Brett Austin had three hits to pace the Pack and Rodon contributed a pinch hit RBI.
Bryan Adametz, who has ascended to the leadoff spot in the order in Turner's absence, reached base three times, and Matt Bergquist, who has taken over at shortstop, scored and drove in a run in Sunday's 4-1 series finale. Jake Fincher was 4-for-4 and scored three times and Sam Morgan had a huge pinch hit, two-run double in the bottom of the eighth to give the Pack some breathing room.
The Pack moundsmen settled down in this one. Four pitchers were able to scatter 10 Clemson hits thanks to not issuing a single free pass. Brad Stone had what qualifies as a great start these days, allowing a run over four and a third innings. Josh Easley, Grant Sasser, and Ryan Wilkins held Clemson at bay with four and two third innings of shutout relief. Wilkins, who second to Turner has been the team's MVP of the season so far, has yet to allow a run in six appearances. Wilkins is 2-0 with two saves and has yielded just three hits in 13 and 1/3 innings.
While the Wilkins-led Pack pen has been outstanding this season, the starting staff has been suspect. N. C. State has gone six games in a row without the starter getting through five innings.
Florida State and North Carolina both opened ACC play with sweeps, putting the Pack in a two-game hole right out of the gate. Despite a lofty preseason ranking, the Turner-less Pack are not only not likely to compete with the Noles and Holes for an ACC championship, they should also rejigger postseason expectations from hosting a regional to hoping they make it to the postseason at all. Baseball season is feeling a lot like basketball season which felt a lot like football season which felt a lot like being an N. C. State fan.
So it goes.