The strength of NC State baseball is supposed to be its deep pitching staff, a group that ranked among the nation's best in ERA and opponents' batting average a year ago, but the staff has been both hittable and generous with free passes in the early going, giving up 20 runs in their first three games. After getting shutout in the season opener, the Pack batsmen have had their pitchers' backs. A day after exploding for 13 against a ranked Coastal Carolina nine, the Pack outlasted Kent State 7-5 to improve to 2-1.
Andrew Knizner swung the biggest stick for the Pack, homering for the second straight day. His three-run bomb was part of a 2-for-5 day. Preston Palmeiro, Joe Dunand, and Brock Deatherage also had two-hit days, with Detherage homering. A Palmeiro RBI single and a two-out RBI double from Dunand gave the Pack the lead and an insurance run in the seventh.
Evan Braband made sure the lead held, hurling the final three innings in impressive fashion. He allowed just one hit and struck out three in closing the game out for his first career save. Cody Beckman vultured the win; he coughed up a couple of runs in just two-thirds of an inning but was the pitcher of record when State took the lead. Joe O'Donnell had the longest outing of the season for a Pack starter, lasting 5.1 fairly effective innings (three runs, two earned).
Dunand, a rangy (in terms of size, if not ground coverage) experiment at shortstop after playing the hot corner last year, committed his second error in three games.
After a 2-1 mark in the Caravelle Resort tournament in Myrtle Beach, the Pack host Morehead St. Tuesday at the Dail at 3 p.m. in their home opener.
In softball action, NC State earned a split in the inaugural ACC-Big Ten Challenge thanks to some generous defense from Wisconsin and Tyler Ross's yardwork. As has been the case too often for the ladies in the early going, a lead was blown, but this time they bounced back to win 6-5.
Behind Ross's three-run bomb and six (!) Badger errors, State led 5-0 entering the bottom of the fifth. Harli Hubbard ran into trouble in the frame, loading the bases with one out. Courtney Mirabella took over for her armed with a can of gasoline...she yielded a grand slam to Kelsey Jenkins, the first batter she faced, and, an out later, Chloe Miller knotted the contest at five with a solo shot.
Mirabella would not only settle down - she dominated - recording six of the last seven outs by strikeout to earn the win when her Pack pushed a run across in the top of the seventh. Maggie Hawkins delivered the game winner, a double that scored Molly Hutchison. Hutchison led all players with three hits on the day.
The ladies are a respectable 5-4 as they adjust to life after Renada Davis and Emily Weiman, and five of those games have come against P5 opponents. Life is about to get astronomically harder for Shawn Rychcik's crew, who head west for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. They will play five opponents over four days; four of those opponents are ranked. Two of those opponents are ranked #1 (Florida) and #2 (Michigan).
I can neither confirm nor deny rumors that Sherman Basinger's head exploded when the women's basketball and softball teams won (including hoops going on something like a 40,000-2 run at UNC) within minutes of each other on the same day. Your thoughts and prayers are welcome either way.