Sean Adler couldn’t have been more instrumental in NC State’s last five wins, and none was bigger than Saturday’s 5-4 triumph over one-seed Kentucky in the Lexington regional. Adler, who had saved the Pack’s last four wins, including Friday’s marathon extra-inning affair against Indiana, entered the game in the first after starter Michael Bienlien struggled and went 7.2 innings for the win against a potent Wildcats lineup.
With Adler having thrown 122 pitches, Austin Staley came on for the ninth and allowed what turned out to be a harmless solo shot to Evan White before nailing down his fifth save to preserve the Pack’s undefeated run so far in regional play. Host Kentucky will square off with Indiana in an elimination game Sunday afternoon with the winner facing the Pack at 7 p.m. Whoever emerges will have to beat State twice (with the second game on Monday, if necessary) to advance.
Though Kentucky is the host school, State was the “home” team for the game and quickly found itself down 1-0, but Stephen Pitarra’s first home run of the season knotted things in the bottom half of the inning, and Josh McLain made it back-to-back jacks and the Pack would never trail again.
Tristan Pompey’s solo shot evened the score in the third, but the Pack caught a break in the bottom of the fifth when Evan Mendoza’s scorching liner to center was misplayed by Marcus Carson, who dove and came up empty, allowing two runs to score. Andy Cosgrove tacked on an important insurance run with a single to left that plated Mendoza.
The Wildcats got a run off Adler in the seventh and the aforementioned solo shot in the ninth but couldn’t claw all the way back. Adler gave up six hits and walked three, but he made big pitches when it mattered over and over to get out of jams.
Pitarra reached three times for the Pack with his homer and a pair of walks. Joe Dunand was the only Pack player to record more than one hit, going 2-for-4, though every player in the starting lineup, save for Will Wilson, had a hit.
Brian Brown will presumably take the ball Sunday night for the Pack. Though he had a rough outing against UNC in the ACC tournament, Brown has turned in a nice season (4-2, 3.38 ERA) and has arguably been State’s ace for the last three years. Especially considering relief ace Joe O’Donnell should be available after having Saturday off, you couldn’t ask for a more enviable position.