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NC State’s lack of bullpen trust loses game one to UNC, 9-8

Tar Heels walk off the Wolfpack in the bottom of the 9th

COLLEGE BASEBALL: APR 26 East Carolina at N.C. State
Yes, this one’s on you.
Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A common theme of the NC State baseball program under Elliott Avent is that the bullpen, which starts every season with a bevy of talented arms, will ultimately be whittled down into one or two “trusted” (read: overused) arms. This strategy worked out in 2021, but that’s the only time.

With the Wolfpack fighting for their NCAA tournament - and, hell, ACC Tournament - lives right now, this strategy came back to bite them in the ass on Thursday night as they let a game against rival UNC-CH slip away thanks to a lack of trust in the bullpen arms.

Despite getting out to a 5-0 lead early, Logan Whitaker just didn’t have it tonight and couldn’t make it out of the 3rd inning. Baker Nelson was the first man out of the bullpen because, well, of course he was. He gave up a lot of hard contact including three hits while walking two and hitting a batter. Somehow that only resulted in one run being scored.

Starter-turned-reliever Dom Fritton was then called on. He was great in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, but clearly ran out of gas in the 8th. Despite the obvious signs (velo dropping by 3 mph, heavy breathing, waning control), he was left in with the tying run aboard in the 8th. He made it out of that frame with State hanging to a 1-run lead.

Then, for some reason unknown to anyone else, Fritton went back out there for the 9th. Hey, maybe the rest of the bullpen forgot to hop on the bus today for the game. Maybe the coaches want to see how quickly Fritton can go from amazing to having his arm in a sling. Who knows?!

Either way, a clearly exhausted arm was left out there for too long and UNC ended up walking off the Pack despite the State lineup putting eight runs on the board.

NC State will now need to win both Friday and Saturday to avoid a crushing series loss.