Buntin' Elliot Avent's Pack fell flat in front of an all-important ACC weekend series with Wake Forest Wednesday in a midweek game against Richmond, losing 7-4 thanks to typical wildness from the pitching staff and the manager's requisite insistence on bunting when it defies everything but "by the book" logic to do so.
The mythical book says to play for the tie at home, so when the first two men reached with N.C. State trailing 6-4 in the bottom the eighth, Avent called time to trot out onto the field and personally tell Kyle Cavanaugh to put down the bunt. The problem, aside from the numerous studies that suggest that giving away outs inevitably reduces a team's offensive ceiling in a given inning, is that Cavanaugh is a gangly 6-5 freshman who hasn't had a sacrifice bunt all season. And had he known he would be asked to bunt guys over rather than trying to fulfill his promise as a slugger - dude is huge - it's probable he would have never been in this spot. He'd have gone elsewhere for college. But in this spot he was, and he was clearly not a very good bunter, pushing one a few feet foul and another laughably foul before taking a called third strike. Pitiful.
Avent should not only know his personnel better, but he should have also noticed that the Richmond pitcher, Dan Martinson, had hit three of the eight batters he had faced and walked another one. Yes, let's give a guy who has no clue where the ball is going a free out! Brilliant! To make matters worse, Bubby Riley was waiting on deck. Riley of the .200 batting average and .238 slugging percentage. It's almost like bunting someone over to see if the pitcher can drive him in. Zak Sterling came on in relief of Martinson and, predictably, struck out Riley and made him look bad in the process. The Pack failed to score.
The Pack trailed because Cory Wilder was, well, you know. The freshman failed to get out of the first inning after issuing three bases on balls and uncorking a wild pitch. D.J. Thomas came on after two were already in and allowed two inherited runners to score, putting the Pack in a 4-0 hole before they ever stepped in the batter's box. Thomas has been solid this season, but his inability to slam the door underscores a point I've been making all season: the loss of a stable of studs from the 2013 bullpen is perhaps the biggest reason for the team's failure to meet preseason expectations. Last year, a Josh Easley or Andrew Woeck comes on and fans a guy and the Pack escapes down just a couple of runs. Then the bullpen keeps the opponent in check while the offense mounts a comeback.
The bullpen didn't keep them right there tonight. In addition to the two inherited runners that scored, Richmond plated single runs off Pack relievers in the 4th, 8th, and 9th. In all, Pack pitchers walked six Spiders, threw two wild pitches, and hit a batter.
Aside from the RPI hit - Richmond is below .500 overall and in the A-10 - losing to the Spiders isn't that big of a deal. The loss of course doesn't have an effect on the big picture goal of squeaking into the ACC tournament. But a loss within the loss could have an impact on those fleeting tournament hopes, as Brett Austin left the game in the third. Austin was on his feet in the dugout, rally cap on, late in the game and didn't seem obviously damaged in any way. Hopefully he's just got a bit of a bug or something. (I watched most of the game on the Ocho, but I missed the part where Austin came out. The announcers didn't pass on any info that I heard. If anyone has the scoop, please share it in the comments.)
Home plate umpire Reid Churchill also left the game after taking a foul ball off his mask. The announcers speculated that he may have had a concussion, but he was not noticeably wobbly while having an animated discussion with Tracy Woodson, the Richmond skipper (and former Pack great). It was as if Churchill was just all like: "That's enough of this shit" and decided to head to the house for a cold one.
First pitch for the Wake series, a Friday, Saturday, Monday affair, is slated for 6:30. The first two games are on the Ocho and the finale is slated for ESPNU.