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Out of Leftfield: NC State Knocks Off #2 Louisville

A lot of postseason play appears to be in the cards after beating the Cards.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy DeJuneas dove to try to rob Brendan McKay’s liner down the leftfield line but couldn’t make the outstretched grab, resulting in a double that put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the ninth. Just eight warmup pitches later, DeJuneas, a freshman two-way player out of Charlotte’s Providence High, was trying to nail down a shutout of the nation’s second-ranked team. He was greeted rudely with a single that plated a pair, bringing Louisville to within a run at 3-2, but DeJuneas got dialed in and struck out Will Smith and Blake Tiberi to end the game. The Pack’s 3-2 triumph over the Cardinals guarantees the club a winning mark in ACC play and should be enough to ensure that the team makes the NCAA tournament after underachieving a year ago in Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner’s last season.

NC State (31-19, 15-13) took a 2-0 lead in the third when Logan Ratledge tripled high off the leftfield wall after fouling off five consecutive pitches. The Cardinals (41-14, 24-5) botched a first and third steal play in the sixth, uncorking a throw in to centerfield when Joe Dunand took off for second, allowing Preston Palmeiro to score from third to make it 3-0. Dunand and Bubby Riley, who scored ahead of Ratledge’s triple, both had a pair of hits. State managed just five total for the game.

Louisville was similarly handcuffed. Freshman Brian Brown picked up his sixth win of the season and dropped his ERA below two (1.87) with 5.1 innings of shutout ball. Brown allowed two of the five hits the Cards managed and struck out seven. When the young lefty ran in to trouble in the sixth, Will Gilbert bailed him out by inducing a double play ball from McKay on the first pitch he threw.

Louisville fell short in its attempt to set the ACC regular season mark for conference wins and will try again in the series rubber match Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on your favorite regional sports network. The Cardinals snapped the Pack’s nine game winning streak in the series opener, winning 4-3, but the Pack has nonetheless won nine of 10 and appears to be peaking at the right time.

Much of the credit goes to first-year (for the Pack anyway, he served in the same capacity at Auburn and College of Charleston) pitching coach Scott Foxhall, who has guided a staff without a single senior to an ERA well below three. In their last five games, the Pack has held Wake Forest and Louisville, two of the league’s better offenses, to 14 runs, including holding their opponent to three or fewer runs in four of those five games. The highlight of the game for me was seeing Foxhall’s demeanor with Brown when he pulled him against the freshman’s wishes. He embraced his pupil’s shoulders throughout the conversation on the mound, then offered the classic butt slap for a job well done when he summoned Gilbert from the pen. Forgive me for being sentimental, but if you witnessed the moment you got the feeling Foxhall cared more for Brown as a kid in a pressure-packed game than he did about the game’s ultimate outcome.

Freshmen Brown and DeJuneas (1.98 ERA, six saves) have certainly thrived under Foxhall’s tutelage, and a number of returnees have improved dramatically under the new pitching coach. Joe O’Donnell (4.13 ERA to 1.94) and Cory Wilder (6.75 to 3.20), in particular, have made huge leaps from their freshman to sophomore campaigns. Gilbert had a 4.09 ERA last year but boasts a 1.93 mark in a breakout junior campaign.

The best news from the ACC’s final regular season weekend is that State’s win (coupled with UNC’s epic collapse (five league losses in a row)) guarantees the Pack a top six finish in league play and avoidance of the dreaded tournament play-in game. Whooooooooooooooooo!