The N.C. State softball program had a season of firsts- -including a first trip to a regional championship game- -but ultimately staff ace Emily Weiman wore down and fifth-ranked Tennessee got to her on Sunday. The Lady Vols scored two in the first inning and two more in the second en route to a 7-0 shutout over the ACC champions. Tennessee didn't allow a run in the regional and will host Alabama next weekend in the super regional round.
Weiman pitched brilliantly over the first two games of the regional, shutting out James Madison in the opening round and holding Tennessee scoreless for 10 and 2/3 innings in the winner's bracket game before the Lady Vols broke through for the 1-0 win. Had the Pack put a run on the board at any point in the first 10 innings, they may still be playing. Instead, they needed three more wins from Weiman instead of just one.
After losing the heartbreaker, the Pack rebounded to defeat JMU again, this time 6-4, but it was clear that the advantage was shifting to the hitters as the innings mounted for Weiman. The sophomore righty surrendered eight hits in the second meeting after tossing a three-hit shutout Friday, and it couldn't have helped that a rain delay kept the team at the ballpark into the wee hours of the night Saturday before the game was ultimately postponed and finished the next morning.
In the fourth meeting with Tennessee of the season and the second of the weekend, the Lady Vols solved Weiman with eight hits and seven earned runs in just three and 2/3 innings. After throwing the first 28 and a 1/3 innings of the tournament for the Pack, she simply ran out of gas.
Weiman's school-record 33 wins should place her somewhere among the top five in the country once the tournament concludes, but she was also one of just a handful of pitchers to surpass the 300-inning mark. Of the 16 teams that advanced to the super regionals, only three relied on just one pitcher: Michigan with Sara Driesenga, Louisiana Lafayette with Jordan Wallace, and Nebraska with Tatum Edwards. All of those series were concluded in just three games.
For N.C. State to take the next step next year, the need is clear: the Pack must develop a competent second pitcher to share the load with Weiman. That pitcher may come from recruiting or from a transfer, or it may come in the form of rising sophomore Chelsea Stanfield, who mopped up with three and a 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday against Tennessee but had a high 5.06 ERA for the season.
The Pack will also need to replace seniors Caitlin Dent (.285, 14 home runs, 50 RBI), Bethany Wells (.255, 8, 23), and Katie Mansilla (appeared in 44 games, mostly as a pinch runner), and after the record-setting championship season, head coach Shawn Rychcik shouldn't have much problem luring talent to Raleigh.
The Pack pounded 88 home runs this year, besting the school record by 22, though Renada Davis's bat was unusually quiet during the regional. She hit a school-record 26 long balls on the season but none over the weekend. The program also set new records for runs, doubles, RBI, and on-base percentage as it improved from 22 to 35 wins.
The ACC showed well during the regional round, with Florida State going 3-1 to advance as the two-seed from South Alabama's regional. The Seminoles face #4 national seed Texas next. Virginia Tech took Kentucky to the wire in Lexington but bowed out after a 3-2 weekend. Despite winning the ACC championship, N.C. State had the tougher road to the super regional than its league counterparts. The Jaguars were the #13 seed for the tournament and the Wildcats were seeded 12th. Tennessee was the #7 seed. Thanks, NCAA. At least the Pack played better than its rival; North Carolina managed just one win in Oregon's regional.