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Ninth-inning rally pushes NC State through to ACC tournament semis

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Never give up. Never any doubt.

NC State Athletics
NC State Athletics

NC State squandered so, so many scoring opportunities—leaving 13 men on base—but refused to lose in its opening game of the ACC tournament, staging a four-run ninth to edge Wake Forest 6-5 and advance to the tourney’s semifinals. The Pack will play Florida State Friday evening, but the outcome of that game is irrelevant, as a State loss would leave each team in the Pack’s pod at 1-1 (Wake beat FSU in previous pod play), and the tiebreaker comes down to seeding—State is the top seed in the pod.

With that bit of confusing, weird tournament format housekeeping put to bed, let us focus on the glory that was the top of the ninth. Will Wilson opened the inning with a well-placed triple down the right-field line. Michael Ludowig, playing Wilson to pull, laid out after a long run but came up short on what at first looked like a harmless popup, allowing the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year to easily reach third. Patrick Bailey followed with a mystery strike zone walk (not really in any team’s favor, just terribly inconsistent), bringing the tying run to the plate. Oh yeah, State trailed 5-2 entering the ninth. That seems like a pretty important detail.

Anyway, Evan Edwards surely capped his impressive State career with a game-tying homer. Alas, no. Edwards lined out to short. One down. Freshman Tyler McDonough followed with a pivotal at-bat, fouling off five two-strike pitches before coaxing a walk that loaded the bags. After all the drama of McDonough’s 12-pitch at-bat, Brad Debo jumped on the first pitch from Wake closer Will Fleming and laced a two-run single in the gap in right-center field. State still trailed 5-4, but McDonough made it to third on the play, putting the tying run a mere 90 feet away.

There was still work to do, however, and Debo, not exactly fleet of foot, represented the winning run all the way over there at first base. Enter Elliott Avent’s genius. Avent tabbed David Harrison, lately the Pack’s Sunday starter, and a human who has never run the bases in a college baseball game, as pinch runner. Harrison took second on a ball in the dirt that got about two inches away from the catcher. That aggressiveness paid off, as Harrison was able to score the winning run from second when (after Luca Tresh fanned for the second out) Terrell Tatum beat out an infield single on a chopper up the middle. Of course McDonough, he of the heroic 12-pitch AB, scored ahead of Harrison for the tying run. It was a lot to keep up with.

And actually Harrison was out until he wasn’t. A replay review (after an initial call of out at home) showed that he got a spike on the dish before a high tag was applied by Wake catcher Logan Harvey. That’s right; a pinch running pitcher scored the winning run from second on an infield hit. SO MUCH DRAMA.

To add to the drama, Wake’s lefty-swinging ACC Player of the Year Bobby Seymour, who drove in an unfathomable 92 runs this season, laced a double off lefty Evan Justice to start the bottom of the ninth. (Lower-seeded Wake was the home team for reasons unknown. I think they just flip a coin or something.) Avent gave the relatively battle-hardened Justice the quick hook in favor of the righty-righty matchup with redshirt freshman Cameron Cotter coming on to face Shane Muntz. Cotter redshirted last season due to injury, but certainly not because he can’t pitch (dude was 13-1 with a 0.69 ERA as a high school senior en route to leading Northwest Guilford to a state title). Cotter got Muntz to pop up to Evan Edwards, and then he beat Ludowig (the “O” is silent, like my wife’s) to the bag on a tricky 3-1 putout for the second out as Seymour moved up to third. Cotter blew away Bruce Steel with a “come on, Ricky, give ‘em the heater” fastball to nail it down.

WHAT A GAME!

Fleming ended up throwing 50 pitches in the ninth and allowing four runs, all earned, though Tatum is probably out at first if Michael Turconi doesn’t take about 12 minutes to get his throw off on the game-turning play. State starter Reid Johnston didn’t have any better luck, as a Dillon Cooper error, a Patrick Bailey dropped ball at the plate that would’ve gunned down a runner, and an ill-advised Bailey pickoff attempt that he airmailed into leftfield, led to a pair of unearned runs and Wake taking a 4-0 lead. Johnston didn’t make it out of the third.

Wilson and Edwards reached on consecutive Wake errors in the 7th and eventually scored to cut the Wake lead in half. Debo, who went 2-for-4 with three RBI, doubled with two outs to tack on the second unearned run in the frame after McDonough had plated a run in the most unfortunate fashion by grounding into a bases-loaded double play.

Led by Nick Swiney, the State pen combined to allow just one run over 6.1 innings pitched. Swiney didn’t allow a hit and fanned eight in 3.2 innings, though he did allow one earned run after one of his four walks came around to score after he left the game. Baker Nelson got the last out of the eighth and thus picked up the win when the Wolfpack rallied. Cotter’s save was his third of the season.

Vojtech Mensik, who has been sidelined with an injury, didn’t start the game but finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles after replacing Cooper at third. Mensik and Debo were the only two Pack players to record multiple hits, though State logged 18 base runners via hit (10) or walk (eight) in the game.

Duke and Georgia Tech square off Friday at 11 a.m. with the winner taking on NC State Saturday at 5 p.m. in the semifinals. State’s meaningless game against FSU will be Friday at 7 p.m. All games are streaming on the ACC Network Extra and on old school TV via the soon to be defunct Raycom Sports Network (which translates to your regional Fox Sports affiliate for our purposes here). The championship, which is surely to include NC State, is at noon Sunday on ESPN2.