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Diamond Update: Pack Nine Salvage Another Sunday

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Damn you, Skye Bolt.

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NC State baseball squad copied its pattern from the previous weekend against Florida State this weekend by losing a pair of one-run games before winning the series finale. The Pack beat rival North Carolina 6-3 Sunday and outscored the Heels 9-8 in the series, but the NCAA selection committee probably doesn't care that the team is outscoring their opponents in series they are losing. The Pack nine seem close to breaking out and becoming a tournament team in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but they are probably going to have to do better than avoiding a sweep after a couple of near misses in order to ensure there will be baseball life after the regular season.

State has two more chances to take at least two of three from top national teams with Virginia (#15 in the NCBWA poll) and Louisville (#6) remaining on the schedule, and it also has road series against fellow bubble teams Notre Dame and Wake Forest. Actually Notre Dame, up next weekend, is 31st in the NCAA's official RPI, which was finally released last week. That's considerably better than Virginia (46th) though the Cavs certainly have the better national reputation on the diamond. At any rate, it should be a dramatic last month of the season.

There was plenty of drama in Friday's series opener, with Cory Wilder doing his normal wild thing, walking six but wriggling out of damage time and again thanks to allowing just two hits against seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings pitched. Bullpen workhorse Joe O'Donnell, who entered the game with four wins to just one loss and the lowest ERA among Pack pitchers with enough innings to qualify, made a mistake to Skye Bolt in the bottom of the seventh. The mistake left the yard and held up to give the Heels a 2-1 win despite their making just three hits.

Zac Gallen had just one win all year for UNC but went the distance without allowing an earned run in Friday's opener.

Saturday featured another pitchers' duel with the Heels needing 10 innings to prevail 3-2. Shane Shepard's solo shot put the Pack up 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth, but a Joe Dunand error to start the bottom of the inning allowed Korey Dunbar to reach and eventually score an unearned run on Bolt's single to knot the game.

Tommy DeJuneas has enjoyed an impressive freshman campaign but seemed to wilt under the pressure of pitching in extras against a rival for the first time. He got out of a jam in the ninth but then walked the bases drunk without recording an out before plunking Zack Gahagan for the walk-off HBP.

Sunday was better. The Pack chased Benton Moss early then banged around Tyler Thornton, who has seemingly owned them in the past, to escape with a win. After Jake Fincher singled to start the 5th, Logan Ratledge doubled to put the Pack in business. Preston Palmeiro scored Fincher with a single and Andrew Knizner's groundout brought Ratledge home, giving State a 4-2 cushion.

A Joel McKeithan RBI double and Ratledge sac fly added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth. The Pack pen was solid, allowing just a run in 6.1 innings after a shaky start from Johnny Piedmonte, with Will Gilbert getting the last out for his second save.

The Pack's RPI is in the 70s despite a somewhat respectable 7-10 mark against the RPI top 100; there are plenty of chances to improve that mark dramatically with some 2-1's rather than 1-2's over the season's last month. Close games have been the bugaboo; State has outscored its opponents 217-138 this season but is just 4-10 in games decided by three runs or less.

SOFTBALL

The Omega jinx was in full effect for game one in Charlottesville, as the team I predicted the Pack would pound in our last diamond update slinked out a one-run win in the series opener, 3-2. State got mad as hell and didn't take it anymore over the rest of the weekend, winning the last two games by a combined score of 14-0.

Virginia must have made a deal with the devil in game one, as its starting pitcher, Andie Formby, somehow managed to go the distance with just two runs allowed despite giving up five hits, walking seven, and hitting a batter. She needed 162 pitches to complete the game! A good chunk of her balls came against Renada Davis, who was walked four times.

The Hoos actually tossed one over the plate to Davis in game two, and she made them pay with her ninth home run. The Pack went yard four times in the 8-0 win with Tyler Ross also hitting her ninth, Maggie Hawkins going yard for the sixth time, and Lana Van Dyken adding her fourth. Emily Weiman bounced back from the loss with a one-hitter.

Weiman won her 20th game of the season in the series finale with her second straight shutout. Meredith Burroughs provided all the offense Weiman would need with her ninth round tripper of her freshman campaign. Burroughs owns the North Carolina prep record with 19 home runs in a season and is a big part of the reason why the Pack have out-homered opponents 55-29 on the season.

The Pack have a midweek challenge coming with a trip to Alabama (#7 RPI) before hosting rival UNC. All four games are available to stream online.