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NC State can't close out Coastal Carolina

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Let's play the "what if" game right up until they come in with the straight jackets, at which time we shall turn our attention to hyping up unrealistic expectations for football. How long until football? Not that long. Program's gonna turn a corner this year. Probably win it all.

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NC State's regional-deciding game against Coastal Carolina will be remembered for a lot of "what ifs." What if Brock Deatherage was called safe at first (and he was safe) in the second when the Pack plated a run but left two men on? What if Seth Lancaster had been called out on strikes leading off the fourth (and Brian Brown appeared to have him struck out, but the home plate ump hesitated and then never pulled the trigger)? Instead, Lancaster singled, went to second on an error and later scored.

What if the crew paused the contest earlier in the ninth instead of trying to finish the game in an absolute downpour? Does Cody Beckman, who had been cruising with a dry ball, walk the first two batters? What if Evan Brabrand wasted a fastball off the outside corner rather than trying to bury a back foot slider on Tyler Chadwick? Instead, he hit him to load the bases when the Pack had been one strike away from advancing.

What if Deatherage's trap was ruled a catch? What if, rather than trying to sell the catch, he had immediately come up firing? Even with the hesitation, he nearly nailed the go-ahead run at the plate. What if veteran skipper Elliott Avent was on the sidelines rather than suspended for getting a wee bit too animated over his ejection in the previous game? Finally, in the bigger picture, what if two weekend starters, Joe O'Donnell and Ryan Williamson, hadn't suffered injury?

Of course all the "what ifs" you can think of, and I'm sure there are more, are worth about as much as oceanfront property in Arizona. The bottom line is that NC State failed to advance as regional host for the first time in program history and, for the second straight season, came tantalizingly close to advancing to college baseball's sweet 16 only to lose in dramatic, heartbreaking, soul-crushing, head-scratching, maddening, deflating, there-really-aren't-enough-adjectives-to-sum-up-the-painful-level-of-fail fashion.

One strike away.