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Pack 9 drop slugfest to Catamounts, 9-8

But there was some good to come from it, really!

Cougar Cubs Celebrate The Holiday Season
Merry Christmas, kitties
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After starting the season as high as sixth-ranked in one poll, N.C. State fell to 6-6 with a 9-8 loss to Western Carolina this afternoon at the Doak at Dail. I’m not really feeling the journalistic game recap, so here, instead, are some random stream of consciousness observations from the game.

State won the earned run battle, 8-5, so…yay? Had Joe Dunand brought his glove, it’s a different game. His pair of miscues led to four unearned runs. That’s about the only negative in the game, really. The Catamounts can swing the bats, and holding them to five runs would’ve been a pretty solid pitching effort in what was the Pack’s fourth game in four days.

There were some things to build on in the loss. Christian Demby went 2-for-3 with a homer, double, and a pair of walks as he got Mendoza’d. Remember when Evan Mendoza was a pitcher and suddenly turned into a slick-fielding, high-average hitting third baseman? Demby, also recruited as a pitcher, got the start at DH and was amazing right up until he wasn’t. Unfortunately he got overmatched by Western’s ace, who struck him out to end the game with the tying run on first in the ninth. Still, he did enough to make you wonder if he might break out Mendoza-like and give what’s been a middling Pack offense a boost.

Speaking of Western’s ace…Bobby Moranda REALLY wanted this one, going to his Friday night starter, Bryan Sammons, in the eighth to get out of a jam. Sammons, who had thrown well over 100 pitches Friday, fanned a couple in the ninth to nail it down. The lefty is no chopped liver, having beaten defending national champ Coastal Carolina in Conway earlier this year.

Speaking of Mendoza…unfortunately he’s looked more like Mario Mendoza this year after he was on fire a year ago, but he drove in a pair today. Though he was just 1-for-5, he was robbed of a double on a nice diving catch on a ball that was crushed. I think he’s showing some signs of coming around, but he’s ultimately going to have to learn to turn on the ball. Teams are pounding his inside-outside stroke inside, and he’s got to adjust.

Above I said something about things to build on…after Demby, it’s definitely the performance of Johnny Piedmonte out of the pen. Big dude went 3.2 very solid innings, allowing just a lone single, to keep the Catamounts at nine runs while his mates mounted a rally. The senior’s tenure has been more struggle than success, but if he can replicate that performance going forward, especially with Brian Brown working his way back, State perhaps might start resembling a ranked team (though I think it’s clear this is not a top 10 team).

Tommy DeJuneas crushed one. Yay, multiple guys that we thought were pitchers going yard! Brad Debo continues to mash. He was 2-for-5 with a double and a couple of RBI.

Is accountability something to build on? Elliott Avent yanked Dunand, the team’s “star” shortstop, replacing him with Stephen Pitarra. If you bench him, you’ll bench anyone, so perhaps a message has been sent.

In the grand scheme of things, losing to an NCAA tournament worthy Western Carolina club by a run in a slugfest is not the end of the world. It just looks a lot worse in the context of the last five. State’s lost four of five. But the team showed some fight today. The coach showed some gumption. There was a lot to build on. Maybe this is the turning point.

Or maybe, as evidenced by losing to a starter who came in with an ERA over 14 for the second time in three games, it isn’t. (Brendan Nail gave up five runs in six innings and significantly lowered his ERA…yikes).

For some reason this game was a lot less difficult to watch than some of the recent losses. I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic.