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Easley Does It: Reliever Pitches Pack Past Clemson in ACC Pool Play

The redshirt senior combined with freshman lefty Brad Stone to scatter eight hits as N.C. State moved to 1-0 in pool play.

Baseball, Merca, #1
Baseball, Merca, #1
Christian Petersen

Josh Easley was drafted twice by the Mets but chose to transfer from Weatherford Community College (TX) to N.C. State instead of signing. Since turning down the Mets, it has sometimes been a bumpy road for the rangy 6-3 righty. Easley struggled to a 5.96 ERA as a junior and missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. On Wednesday in the opening round of the ACC baseball tournament, Easley looked like a guy likely to get another shot at professional baseball. The redshirt senior induced two double play balls and surrendered just one run over four innings to lead the Pack to a 6-3 win over Clemson in the opening game of ACC tournament pool play for both teams.

Easley (5-2) entered the game in the top of the sixth with the bases drunk and nobody out but got Pack-killer Garrett Boulware to bounce into a rally-snuffing, 6-3 double play. A run scored on the play to tie the game at 2-2, but Easley escaped without further harm while his team mounted a rally against Clemson ace Daniel Gossett (9-4).

After Easley set down the side in order in the seventh, Bryan Adametz poked a single through the right side to put the Pack (43-13) in business in the bottom of the inning. Jake Armstrong, as Jake Armstrong is wont to do, leaned into a pitch to put runners on first and second. Logan Ratledge botched a sac bunt attempt, and Adametz was cut down at third for the first out, but Trea Turner walked on five pitches to load the bases and, to some extent, bail out Ratledge.

With the sacks full, Gossett made Jake Fincher look silly on a 2-1 breaking ball in the dirt. Another good hook and Fincher likely goes down swinging for the third time in the game; instead, Gossett hung one and Fincher drilled it into left to give State a 3-2 advantage. When the cut-off throw short-hopped third baseman Shane Kennedy and bounded towards the dugout, Ratledge scampered home to make it 4-2. Brett Austin followed with a two-run insurance double to extend the lead to 6-2.

Boulware, who was 3-for-4, homered for the third time against the Pack this season in the ninth on Easley's lone mistake of the game, a fastball that was supposed to be outside but tailed back over the plate. But the blast over the iconic bull at Durham Athletic Park proved to be harmless, as Easley got Kennedy on a lazy fly to center before striking out Tyler Krieger to end the game.

Easley went four innings and allowed just two hits, one run, and struck out three without issuing a free pass. The senior's ERA is now a miniscule 1.62 on the season. Brad Stone, the freshman lefty who was tabbed for the start despite a 6.23 ERA entering the game, kept the Tigers off balance by pitching backwards. He tossed a slew of slurves early in the count, only occasionally mixing in his fastball on the margins of the strike zone to keep Clemson (39-18) honest. Stone worked five solid innings before running into trouble in the sixth, but Easley got out of the bases-loaded, nobody-out jam that he inherited with minimal damage. Stone allowed six hits, two runs (one earned), walked one, and struck out three in his five-plus innings.

Kennedy manufactured the first Clemson run by stealing second base, third base, and scampering home after some lazy glove work from Austin resulted in a passed ball. Kennedy's run gave the kitties a brief 1-0 advantage in the second, but Grant Clyde squared the game in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Clyde, who deserved to earn all-conference honors after batting .326 with 11 doubles in the regular season in ACC play, also picked it like Brooks Robinson at the hot corner, making numerous tough plays behind Stone and Easley. Turner and Ratledge also started double plays for a Pack defense that was very solid with the exception of Austin's passed ball. (OK, so when Kennedy was picked off first Tarran Senay uncorked a throw into leftfield, but Kennedy had such a huge jump that even a good throw was unlikely to get him.)

The Pack scored their second run in the third when Austin's wicked one hopper ate up Tiger second baseman Steve Wilkerson. Wilkerson pounced on the ball after it careened into short right field but fired to first half a step too late to get his man; meanwhile, Armstrong motored home from second base on the play to give the Pack a one-run lead.

The Pack only managed six hits, two of which went to Fincher, who also scored and drove in a run. Armstrong reached three times on a single (that would have been a double had he not fallen down rounding first), HBP, and a walk. He scored twice. Turner did not have a hit but walked twice and scored a run.

After an off day Thursday, the Pack return to action Friday morning at 11 a.m. against Miami. The Canes open pool play tomorrow against tournament #1 seed North Carolina. Logan Jernigan is expected to toe the rubber against the Canes; Carlos Rodon will try to handcuff the Heels.