Leave it to me to jinx something. In his first opportunity since I lauded him for chilling out a bit on the sac bunt in recent years, Elliott Avent bunted NC State out of a potentially big inning in the first in the series opener against Duke Friday night at the Doak. Thankfully Evan Mendoza, and Avent coming to his senses in the 9th, erased the memory of the early missed opportunity. Mendoza's walk-off single gave the Pack their 20th home win and 30th "W" overall on the season, a 3-2 defeat of Duke.
Cory Wilder was great again, walking just one in 6.1 innings, but partly due to a passed ball leading to an unearned run, he allowed a pair of Blue Devil tallies in the first. The Pack's half of the frame started with the promise of the first two men reaching, but Avent asked three-hole hitter Brock Deatherage to give away an out, and give away an out he did. Deatherage bunted it hard back to the mound and Duke starter Kellen Urbon tossed to third to cut down the lead runner. The Pack managed to scratch out just one run after the failed bunt attempt.
Deatherage (.333 average) is pretty good at swinging the bat, and swing the bat he did in the eighth with the score still 2-1. His team-leading fifth triple with two outs plated Mendoza to tie the score. He may not have needed such heroics had he been allowed to swing away a couple hours earlier.
Preston Palmeiro led off the ninth with a double to the gap in left-center field. When Duke skipper Scott Pollard visited the mound, Avent came out to talk to his third base coach and had a couple of words with Chance Shepard, the slugger he had feloniously asked to bunt last Monday against ECU. I will go to my grave believing Shepard quoted my previous article, "You don't bunt CHANCE FREAKIN' SHEPARD" and winked and smiled at Avent as he trotted by. Shepard did not give himself up, instead bouncing a single up the box that may have scored Swaggy P had he not been held due to the old don't take a chance with no outs edict. Had Avent bunted, the Pack might still be playing, as Brett Kinneman struck out and Andrew Knizner lined out. But State and Mendoza, who also played hero against the Pirates with a go-ahead homer and four RBI, had one more out to work with since Shepard delivered when allowed to swing away. Mendoza delivered a sharp single down the right-field line to end it.
The Pack (30-11) moved to 11-6 in ACC play, including eight wins in their last 10. Duke (24-19) dropped to 9-13 and would not make the league tournament if conference play ended tonight.
Wilder scattered six hits and fanned five in his 6.1 innings. Austin Staley got four outs behind him, Sean Adler got two, and Tommy DeJuneas got the last two in the top of the ninth and was credited with the win. The bullpen did not allow a baserunner.
Mendoza and Joe Dunand, who drove in State's first run, both enjoyed 2-for-4 evenings at the plate. No other Pack player hit safely more than once.
Aside from the win of course, the most notable development in the game was the return of Josh McLain earlier than expected from a broken hand. McLain went 0-for-4 and looked a bit defensive at the plate, but having his glove back in center is a bonus even if he can't swing the bat at the same level he did early in the season. Even if he's not 100% now, his return suggests he can be in time for the postseason.
Knizner, who has been mired in a slump of late, was dropped to eighth in the order and took an 0-for-4 despite hitting the ball hard on a couple of occasions. His average is all the way down to .283. Catching takes its toll.
The Wolfpack look to win the series tomorrow evening with ace Brian Brown on the mound. Your only streaming option is Gopack All-Access. Sunday's 1 p.m. finale returns to ESPN The Ocho.