The Pack Nine lost for just the second time in a span of 23 games and did so rather convincingly, dropping a 12-3 decision to Florida State thanks to some Wild Thing Ricky Vaughan efforts from the pitching staff. Pack hurlers issued 10 free passes and hit four batters as the Noles pulled even in the three-game series and leapfrogged the Pack in the Atlantic Division standings.
FSU (41-10, 17-9) holds a slim ½ game lead over the Pack (39-12, 16-9) and Clemson (37-15, 17-10). After concluding its series at N.C. State Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, FSU will face Clemson in the last three-game set of the ACC campaign. The Pack play at Duke to wrap up the regular season. Obviously, Monday night's winner will be in the driver's seat for first in the division.
It was clear early on that a rubber game would be needed to decide the series winner this weekend, as N.C. State starter Ethan Ogburn was tagged for four hits and four earned runs while recording just four outs. For the most part, the bullpen poured gasoline onto Ogburn's fire; the Pack employed seven pitchers for the game and five were scored upon. Anthony Tzamtzis had a classic Anthony Tzamtzis line, walking five, hitting two, and striking out four in three and a third innings of relief. Somehow he only managed to give up one run. Dillon Frye was less fortunate; he gave up four earned runs while only recording two outs.
There were plenty of offensive standouts for the Seminoles, but D.J. Stewart was simply perfect. The Noles' leftfielder was 3-for-3 at the dish with three walks, three runs scored, and three RBI. Brandon Leibrandt didn't need much run support; he allowed one measly run over eight innings while posting a 7-0 strikeout to walk ratio. Trea Turner had the only multiple-hit performance for the Pack, going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Jake Fincher also reached twice with a hit and a hit by pitch; he scored and drove in one run.
The good news is that a win in the series finale will make this game a distant memory and put the Pack on pace to perhaps claim both a division title and a national seed in the NCAA tournament.
Speaking of the NCAA tournament, the ACC champion women's softball team will be a #2 seed in the Knoxville regional. Host Tennessee, James Madison, and Longwood round out the bracket. The Pack draw James Madison in Friday's tournament opener.
An interesting subplot to the regional will be the potential matchup of the nation's two top homer hitters. Longwood's Megan Daltzell leads the nation with 30 long balls; the Pack's Renada Davis is second with 26.
The Pack have seen the Lady Vols twice this season, falling 7-0 and 8-2 in the South Florida tournament in mid February. However, while the Lady Vols have an impressive résumé (4th in both major polls and 9th in RPI), if they see State they will be seeing a team that has improved a great deal in three months. The Pack enter the regional having won 19 of their last 21 games, including 12 straight. ACC pitcher of the year Emily Weiman is coming off a tournament MVP performance that saw her yield a grand total of one run in three complete game victories.
Tennessee, one of seven SEC schools to host a regional, is making its 11 appearance in the NCAA tournament but enters the 64-team event having lost four of its last six games. Granted, those losses came against top 25 teams Missouri and Arkansas, but the red-hot Pack have to like their chances.
But first things first. The Dukes (41-15) are a top 40 RPI team that impressed the selection committee enough to garner the CAA's first ever at-large bid. Sarah Mooney hit .413 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI for a JMU squad that has a pair of aces in Jailyn Ford (23-5, 1.66 ERA) and Heather Kiefer (14-7, 1.40). The Dukes went 3-3 against ACC competition, splitting a pair with Virginia Tech, sweeping a doubleheader against Virginia, and dropping a pair to North Carolina.
The NCAA tournament is over for both the men's and women's netters. The men's tennis team trounced #24 Auburn in the first round, 4-1, in the Norman, Oklahoma regional. But the host 14th-ranked Sooners stopped the Pack 4-0 in the second round. Dave Thomson and Sean Webber, the Pack's #1 doubles unit, will compete in the NCAA Doubles Championship from May 22-27 in Urbana, Illinois.
The women's team was bumped from the tournament in the first round by #24 Notre Dame. Rachael James-Baker claimed the lone point for the Pack, downing Chrissie McGaffigan 6-2, 6-1 at #4 singles.
The Pack men finished the season 14-11; the women were 14-10.