The much-anticipated weekend series between N.C. State and North Carolina will feature a pair of top 10 teams, but it will not feature the two teams with the longest current winning streaks in the nation. The Wolfpack managed to avoid the letdown trappings of a midweek game against Davidson, if just barely, winning 4-3 on a Jake Fincher walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to win their NCAA-best 15th straight game. The Tarheels, however, blew leads of 6-0 and 8-6 to see their 14-game winning streak snapped against upstart UNC-Wilmington.
At 31-11, the Seahawks are no slouches. They have won 10 of 11 and showed how bad they wanted the midweek win over the #1 ranked Tarheels by pitching closer Kelly Secrest for five and two third innings. The lefty came on in the fourth with his team down 8-6 and did not allow a hit until the bottom of the ninth, when UNC's Brian Holbertson led off with a scratch infield single and advanced to second on Secrest's errant throw to first. Secrest stranded Holbertson, getting a pair of harmless flyouts before issuing a two-out walk, then coaxing another flyout from Parker Jordan to end it. It was his second win of the season and the biggest win for a Wilmington squad that surely punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament regardless of whether or not it secures the CAA's automatic bid. The 9-8 loss was just the third setback of the season for the Tarheels (39-3) and the first for Trent Thornton, who was 8-0 and had allowed just three earned runs all year before blowing it late against UNCW.
The Wolfpack (33-10) were not exactly facing murderer's row against Davidson (12-27), but the Wildcats showed that anything can happen on the diamond on a given night, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth. They managed to chase Pack starter Ethan Ogburn and reliever D.J. Thomas before either recorded an out in the inning. David Daniels plated a pair with a double off Anthony Tzamtzis, the Pack's third pitcher of the inning, for the big blow in the three-run frame. Tzamtzis settled down nicely after the two-base hit, striking out the side to strand runners on second and third and keep his club in the game.
Trea Turner doubled, stole third, and scored on a wild pitch to finally put the Pack on the board in the bottom of the sixth. Turner was 1-for-2 with three walks and two runs scored. He leads the nation with nearly 1.5 runs scored per game and pushed his average on the season to .438, which would set an all-time, single-season club record if he can maintain it.
BTP favorite Jake Armstrong doubled to lead off the seventh but had only made it as far as third after two were down in the inning. In the meantime, Turner had walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, setting the stage for Fincher's first bit of heroics on the evening. His two-out, two-run single knotted the game at 3-3.
Yet another wild pitch set Fincher up for the game-winning sacrifice fly in the ninth. Logan Ratledge started the rally with a leadoff single, stole second, and moved 90 feet away when Michael Zeblo uncorked the Wildcats' third wild one of the game. Fincher's fly ball to center was deep enough to end it and send the Pack into their weekend series with an unblemished record since dropping a one-run decision to Maryland way back on March 30th. Fincher, who had all three Pack RBI, has reached base in all but two games this season.
Grant Sasser followed a sparkling outing from Travis Orwig to pick up his third win of the season with a perfect ninth. Sasser needed just nine pitches to retire the side and lowered his ERA to 0.59 in a team-high 24 appearances. Orwig struck out four in two and two third innings and now owns a 1.84 ERA for the season.
The Pack host the Heels Friday through Sunday, with the first pitch slated for 6:30 in the Friday and Saturday games, both of which air on ESPN3. The finale, which is slated for 7:00 Sunday evening, will be broadcast on ESPNU. The series is sold out.