If NC State needed an emotional lift after falling into the loser's bracket of the Raleigh regional and playing two rain-delayed games that dragged into the wee hours of the morning, it got it from Ryan Williamson and skipper Elliott Avent Monday afternoon in an elimination game against Coastal Carolina.
Williamson, likely facing Tommy John surgery after the season, did his best Willis Reed impression. Even if he only got three outs, the intangible value of his decision to try to go despite injury is immeasurable. Avent, supporting senior lefty Will Gilbert, who was robbed of a strikeout on a blown call, went ballistic and got run after Gilbert came on to bail out Williamson in the second. Avent's team gave their jettisoned lead man a standing ovation and went to work from there, blowing out Coastal Carolina 8-1 to force a decisive game later Monday evening.
Gilbert got out of the second-inning jam with a 4-6-3 double play as the Pack middle infield of Joe Dunand and Stephen Pitarra continued to dazzle on defense. That was after Evan Mendoza started a 5-4-3 twin-killing to end the first.
Mendoza drove in Chance Shepard for the game's first run in the third, but Preston Palmeiro rolled into a 6-3 double play with runners on the corners to end the threat. That missed opportunity didn't matter, as Brock Deatherage went oppo with a two-run bomb in the following frame and the rout was on. State plated sixth in the fourth and Palmeiro made amends, finishing the game 3-for-5 with two RBI. Mendoza also went 3-for-5, scored a run, and drove in three.
But this was Gilbert's afternoon. At maybe 5-10 and probably 20 pounds lighter than whatever the media guide says he weighs, the short reliever turned savior turned in a career performance, going eight innings in relief, doubling the longest outing of his career, and fanning a career high nine Chanticleers against one walk (the walk that got Avent tossed because it wasn't a walk at all).
NC State suddenly has a vast array of arms at its disposal for the decisive game at 6 p.m. after Johnny Piedmonte's 8.2 inning effort yesterday and Gilbert's gutty gem. Keep swinging those hot bats, fellas, and we may well have us some more hardball next weekend.