Sometimes, the most infuriating thing about baseball is the ease in which a coach can out-think himself into a loss. Anyone who’s played or watched the game has seen it happen. Anyone who’s coached the game has done it themselves. Elliott Avent is no exception. Despite turning into a managerial wizard at the midpoint of the 2021 season with seemingly every coaching decision turning into gold over the second half of last year, the man is still bound to screw it up every so often.
Such was the case Sunday afternoon in the Wolfpack’s 7-4 loss to Duke in the series finale in Durham.
Jacob Cozart and Devonte Brown worked back-to-back walks to start off the top of the 3rd inning with NC State already ahead 1-0. State then called for Gino Groover to sacrifice bunt on this first pitch of his at bat. Tommy White and Josh Hood both walked in their at bats immediately following Groover’s sacrifice. While the Wolfpack plated two runs in the inning, giving up an out to a struggling pitcher - especially without making him at least throw a strike first - potentially wiped out an even bigger inning for State.
Even more questionable was the decision to pull Wolfpack starting pitcher Canaan Silver after the 3rd inning. Silver wasn’t exactly having the game of his career having allowed 5 hits, a walk, and plunking a batter, but he was still inducing a ton of weak contact - even on the majority of the hits he allowed - and was generally pounding the zone (60% strikes on the day). Instead, State chose to pull the rubber-armed, strike-throwing, weak-contact-inducing Silver in favor of an arm that hadn’t pitched an ACC game in six weeks.
That decision backfired immediately as another pitching change was needed just a single out (and two runs) later thanks to a double, a single, and three walks issued. That turned into a three-run frame for the Blue Devils and completely turned the game around.
Another questionable decision came in the 8th inning with State down 7-4 with two men on and two out. Cozart was lifted in favor of Will Marcy. Don’t get me wrong, I think Marcy is going to be a great player and he’s already a pretty good one, but with Duke right-handed closer Jimmy Loper on the mound, taking out the left-handed-hitting Cozart in favor of the right-handed-hitting Marcy goes against conventional baseball wisdom. Not to mention that Cozart has been the hottest Wolfpack hitter of late. While he was 0-1 in this game, he did walk twice and he entered the game having gone 9-for-14 with 2 2B and 2 HR over the previous five games.
Not all of State’s coaching moves were wrong on the day. Sometimes coaching decisions are right but poor execution gets in the way. In the 2nd inning having already plated one run and having runners on the corners, State called a well-executed double-steal. Only problem was that Payton Green was so focused on his strikeout that he wandered in the way of the Duke catcher and was called for an inning-ending interference, costing the Pack a run.
Again, don’t let me get too down or waste too many words on a single game from a coaching staff that has done an overall remarkable job given what they had to replace from last year and some of the injuries this year. The truth is that State is comfortably in both the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament fields right now, and the credit should be given to the coaching staff as much as the players.
NC State won this series after all having topped Duke on Friday and Saturday. The Sunday loss doesn’t hurt State’s RPI - and it actually bumps Duke’s up a little and may move them from a Quadrant 3 squad to a Quadrant 2 (Top 100 RPI). The loss really only hurts what hope State had at making a last ditch effort to capture the Atlantic Division title.
The Pack will be back at it on Tuesday, hosting UNC-Greensboro for a 6:00pm game.