If you forgot to set your baseball clock back a day, you missed a good one. NC State was stymied by UNC ace Zac Gallen until some two-out bingo in the sixth, the Pack pen did yeoman's work after Cory Wilder couldn't finish the first, and Elliott Avent's crew downed rival North Carolina 6-4 in their skipper's return to the sidelines after recovering from a snake bite.
Gallen, who entered the contest with a tidy 2.35 ERA and a sterling 90/19 K/BB ratio, was cruising until Stephen Pitarra laced a double with one out in the sixth. Preston Palmeiro cut UNC's lead in half an out later, making it 2-1 with a solid single to right. Joe Dunand followed with a two-strike double in the right-center gap to tie it, and Brock Deatherage untied it with a hustle double on a one-hop hit that got down in front of Heel centerfielder Tyler Ramirez.
The three consecutive clutch two-out hits were followed by a shutdown frame from Cody Beckman, and NC State (33-17, 14-12) went right back to work against UNC (33-20, 12-16). Brett Kinneman opened the seventh with a walk and went to third on a full count hit-and-run single from Chance Shepard (after he thankfully failed to get a stupid sacrifice bunt down). Avent, clearly suffering from bunt withdrawal after missing the Louisville series, then had Josh McLain perform the stupidest sac bunt ever with a runner already at third and no outs. It was in no way a squeeze play, which might have made some sense, as McLain gave away the bunt very early. At least Shepard moved to second on the play.
Giving away an out did not stop State from scoring three more, as Pitarra followed with an RBI single, Evan Mendoza drove home Shepard with a sac fly, and Dunand's second double in as many innings plated Pitarra.
The only blemish for the Pack offense was seeing an end to Mendoza's 23-game hitting streak.
Wilder hit two batters, walked one, and allowed a hit and a run in the first before getting the hook with two outs and the sacks loaded. Chris Williams came on and fanned Evan Pate to escape further damage. Williams ran into his own trouble in the second, allowing a run and leaving with two on and two out. This time, after adding some drama with a walk to load the bases, it was Travis Orwig with the bail out, as he struck out Zack Gahagan to end the threat.
Orwig was dominant. He got six of his eight outs via the K and lowered his ERA to 0.53 on the season.
Austin Staley and Cody Beckman added 1.1 shutout innings apiece as the fourth and fifth pitchers, combining to fan five feckless Heel hitters. Evan Brabrand punched out two more - the pen totaled 14 K's - in the eighth but ran into trouble in the last. A leadoff walk on a 3-2 slider so good it seemed to freeze the umpire and a seeing-eye single off the cap of Cody Roberts' bat spelled the end of the night for Brabrand. Will Gilbert allowed both inherited runners to score but ultimately wiggled out of the jam to put the Pack up 1-0 in the series.
The Thursday-Saturday series kicked off a day earlier than a normal college conference set since the ACC tournament begins next week. The Heels may not see the tournament; they are in a three-way tie for the 10th and final spot. You'll need to be rooting for Notre Dame (which lost in extras to Clemson Thursday) and Boston College (which dropped a game in Atlanta) to stop doing Carolina favors.
Better yet, let's sweep ‘em the heck out of here. WE control your destiny (*evil laugh*).
Friday's first pitch from the Doak is slated for 6:30.