This wasn’t the gut punch of the last two regionals, where late leads were blown in agonizing, almost unbelievable fashion, but NC State failed for the third straight season to get through to the supers when it had a decided advantage. Regional host Kentucky had to come through the loser’s bracket and beat the Pack twice, and beat them they did, doubling up the Pack 10-5 in the decisive game Monday night after forcing it with an 8-6 win Sunday.
The Pack held early leads in both games. In the finale, despite having a trio of veteran arms on the bump, they beat themselves. Redshirt senior Johnny Piedmonte, redshirt junior Cody Beckman, and senior Joe O’Donnell combined to walk nine batters in eight innings. Throw in four errors, two each from middle infielders Joe Dunand and Will Wilson, that led to three unearned runs, and you have a recipe for going home.
Brett Kinneman staked the Pack to an early 2-0 lead with a long home run in the second but he would strike out in his next three at-bats. The team managed a mere five hits and fanned a total of 13 times.
It appeared that a Kentucky program that is not accustomed to pressure situations would be the team to fold in the middle innings, when a run-scoring wild pitch and an error helped State get two in the fourth and one in the fifth to claim a 5-4 lead. However, two walks, a wild pitch, an error, and a passed ball helped hand the Wildcats a three-spot in the seventh. They salted it away when a couple more walks and a couple more errors gifted three more runs in the ninth. The ball never left the infield.
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating season that saw State swept at Boston College to fall to 20-20. To the team’s credit, they rallied from that low point and put themselves in a position to make the postseason, though that’s a small consolation now after the way it ended. This is a post for another day, but this team is about to get gutted by graduation and the MLB draft, so the Lexington regional might have been Elliott Avent’s last chance to make a deep postseason run for a while, if not ever.