For the first six innings Friday afternoon, it looked like NC State was going to cruise to an impressive win over Notre Dame in the ACC opener for both clubs. Wolfpack starting pitcher Sam Highfill had thrown six scoreless innings, allowing just three Fighting Irish batters to reach base (two hits and a walk).
Then the 7th inning happened.
With Highfill already at 95 pitches and this being just his fourth appearance of the year, the Wolfpack coaching staff decided to run him out to the mound for another inning to try and squeeze another three outs from him and limit the bullpen’s usage. That plan backfired in a big way as he allowed a leadoff home run and then another two batters to reach base before being pulled with just one out. Both the runners he left on base scored.
Granted, State still had the lead by the time the 7th inning concluded, but the tone of the game had dramatically changed. And leaving your staff ace on the mound to throw 113 pitches in an early March game is just not a good idea regardless of how well he’s pitching.
Notre Dame plated another run in the 8th inning to tie the game up and the score remained that way through the 9th inning and two extra frames before State’s pitching and defense imploded in the 12th and Notre Dame plated four runs to make it an 8-4 game.
NC State jumped out to an early lead, scoring a run each in the 1st and 2nd innings before pushing two more across in the 3rd. Notre Dame starting pitching Aidan Tyrell had only allowed one run total over his first three starts of the year, so the four runs plated on him by the Wolfpack was quite an achievement. This was only the second time all season that the Irish had allowed a team to score more than three runs on them, and State did it in three innings.
The problem was that was where the Wolfpack offense stopped for the day. Tyrell worked through a leadoff single in the fourth to put up a scoreless inning and Notre Dame went to the bullpen to start the 5th. The strength of the Irish, the bullpen, used four relievers who combined to toss eight scoreless innings to finish out the game, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out 11 State batters.
Tommy White (2-for-6, 2B, 2 R), Gino Groover (2-for-5, 2 R), and Will Marcy (2-for-4) each had multiple hits on the day. J.T. Jarrett (1-for-5, BB), Josh Hood (1-for-4, 3 RBI, BB), and Devonte Brown (1-for-3, RBI, BB, Sac Bunt) also each reached base safely multiple times.
Highfill (6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) was fantastic aside from the 7th inning, while Chris Villaman held the game even from the 9th thru 11th innings before running into trouble in the 12th.
NC State will try to even the series Saturday (weather permitting) at 2:00pm. Matt Willadsen is scheduled to be on the mound for the Pack.