NC State's denizens of the diamond, the Pack Nine baseball club and women's softball, perhaps hit rock bottom on Sunday. One team swung their way off the mat with a vengeance while the other suffered the ignominious fate of becoming Bryant University's lone win in 21 tries.
Fresh off blowing a four-run lead Saturday to an at best middling Notre Dame club, the Pack Nine spotted the Irish five runs in the series rubber match. A loss would've dropped the Pack to 2-4 in the ACC with a veritable who's who of top 25 opponents remaining on the conference slate. Alas, the boys not only rallied, they sent the Irish packing early to catch a flight home with a 16-6, eight-inning win. Notre Dame was not run-ruled, but rather had a Sunday travel curfew to meet, so it called it quits early and made for South Bend with its little leprechaun tail between its little leprechaun legs.
(Do leprechauns have tails? If not, please read the above figuratively.)
Elliot Avent shook things up after State's disappointing game two loss, starting Evan Mendoza at short in favor of Joe Dunand. That didn't work out so well, as Mendoza's error opened the floodgates for four unearned runs in the top of the second. A passed ball from Chance Shepard plated a fifth unearned run in the following inning, and an invigorated Irish danced to a 5-0 advantage.
But, thanks in part to some generous free passages from Irish starter Scott Tully, who walked Josh McLain and Xavier LeGrant to open the frame, the Pack got it all back in the bottom of the third. It was 5-1 with two outs when Shepard singled in a run, Stephen Pitarra put runners on first and second with a hit, and Mendoza walked to load the sacks. The clutch, two-out workmanship continued when Preston Palmeiro unloaded the bases with a game-tying double down the right field line.
After the teams traded runs, it was all NC State. The Pack scored 10 unanswered down the stretch to take the series and remove the bitter taste of having at one point been outscored 13-0 over parts of game two and three.
One shakeup that paid off was the insertion of diminutive second sacker Pitarra in the cleanup spot. The 168-pound sophomore went 4-for-5, scored four times, and drove in a pair. Pitarra upped his average to a team-best .393. He's made just one error in 64 chances and struck out just five times in 61 plate appearances. Pitarra should be a fixture at the pivot, if not the cleanup spot, for a long time.
Ryan Williamson, a midweek starter thus far, likely wrestled a weekend job away from Johnny Piedmonte in the win. Though all were unearned, Piedmonte was tagged for five runs in two-plus innings and remains winless in three starts. Williamson, who allowed just a run in five innings while fanning seven, moved to 4-0 when he picked up the win in his first relief appearance of the season. He's striking out 12.6 batters per nine innings.
Austin Staley struck out the side in the eighth as the Irish were getting their gear together.
NC State's softball team needs to get its shit together (pardon the bad language and segue). The ladies have hosted back-to-back tournaments with such luminaries as Delaware State, Loyola Chicago, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Bryant, and IUPUI visiting Raleigh. Rather than devouring this cast of cupcakes, they have posted a 5-5 combined record in the two tournaments. The underwhelming performance culminated in an 8-5 loss to previously winless Bryant on Sunday morning.
Shawn Rychcik has put together a good offense, the team is slashing a solid .279/.361/.472, but Courtney Mirabella (9-6, 4.12 ERA) has been inconsistent as the staff "ace," and there's not much help behind her. Brittany Nimmo has allowed 49 baserunners in 25 innings, while Harli Hubbard has seen an astronomical 129 in 49.2, or NEARLY THREE PER INNING.
Enter Meredith Burroughs, first basewoman. Position players Burroughs and Maggie Hawkins both took to the circle after Mirabella and Hubbard got torched in Saturday's 8-4 loss to IUPUI (that's Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis for long). Hawkins walked four and allowed a run in her inning, but Burroughs went three shutout frames, allowing nary a free pass and just a lone hit. Naturally, that made her the starter the following day against Bryant.
Burroughs pitched admirably into the seventh, entering the final frame with a 4-3 advantage and all three runs she allowed were unearned. But, as they're wont to do, the wheels came off for a Wolfpack entity leading late in a game. It went walk-walk-HR-walk-sac bunt-HR, and, just like that, the moribund Lady Bulldogs of Bryant enjoyed an 8-4 lead. I am really without a clue as to why Burroughs wasn't lifted at the first sign of trouble. (Maybe she was the best option...even after the five-run inning Burroughs leads the team with a 3.75 ERA!)
The Pack scratched in the bottom of the frame on a Hawkins RBI single to get to 8-5, but Hanna Sommer struck out swinging with the sacks drunk to end the game.
At 15-14, a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament appears exceedingly unlikely. At least the box score found some humor in the situation; under the "Weather" entry, it listed game conditions as "Return of winter, 43 degrees."
Up next: Baseball begins a string of eight straight away from home with a Tuesday tilt at UNC-Wilmington. Softball hosts East Carolina, also on Tuesday.