COLUMBIA, S.C. — N.C. State catcher Danny Canela came to the plate in the ninth inning of Sunday's elimination game at the NCAA baseball tournament's Columbia Regional against Stetson. He represented the winning run after the Wolfpack showed a little life in trimming the deficit to two runs.
For a split second, he, along with nearly everyone in Carolina Stadium, thought he had delivered the winner.
But his drive was hauled in on the warning track in the deepest part of the park at center field, and N.C. State's season ended in a 5-3 loss to the Hatters.
"We gave it charge in the ninth," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. "When Danny hit that ball, I thought it was gone. It would have been a great finish.
"I'm proud of our ball club, I'm happy to be here, I am proud to represent N.C. State University and I wish we weren't going home."
The loss ends the Wolfpack's season at 35-27, but the team won a game in the regional, which is better than it did last year when it went two-and-out at the Myrtle Beach Regional. Both of this year's losses came at the hands of Stetson.
The Wolfpack got a run in the ninth inning on a RBI by Brett Williams and had runners at first and second with one out. Pratt Maynard struck out before Canela's drive was caught for the final out.
"I hit it as hard as I could," Canela said. "It was one of the hardest balls I hit all year."
Starter Rob Chamra struggled with his control and threw five of the six walks issued by the six pitchers used by N.C. State.
The Wolfpack defense didn't help, committing three errors on the hot, muggy day.
"Rob is a sinker-ball guy, and he lets people put it in play, but he couldn't throw a strike there," Avent said. "We walk five and throw it around, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong there for a while."
The Hatters jumped on top in the second inning. Spencer Theisen led off with a double to right that was nearly caught on the wall by Cameron Conner. Theisen advanced to third on a groundout and scored when Sean Emory executed a sacrifice bunt that Chamra threw wildly to the plate trying to prevent Theisen from scoring.
Chamra, who lasted only three innings, began the fourth by allowing a single, a double and a walk to load the bases. He issued his fifth walk of the game to Trey Blackman to force in a run and end his day.
Emory added the final run of the inning on a groundout to second to make it 3-0.
The Hatters added single runs in the seventh and eighth. Both runs were unearned because of two errors and a passed ball that helped lead to one of the runs.
Williams' home run was all the offense the Wolfpack could muster in the early going.
Robbie Powell started for Stetson and left after giving up the two-run shot to Williams, but his outing helped set the stage for the Hatters to get to their best two options out of the bullpen.
"I think we swung at some pitches outside of the zone, maybe swung too early in counts," Avent said. "We didn't make them work hard enough. I think that was the story of the first five innings."
Tucker Donahue pitched 32/3 innings to earn the win. He allowed an unearned run on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Jake Boyd recorded the save by getting the final two outs.
Avent was sad to see the season come to a close with how well his team had played over the final five weeks.
"The reason this hurts so bad right now is this team was really starting to come together," Avent said. "We struggled early with our identity, our roles, with each other, and it took us about 50 games to get there.
"They were figuring it out, and I didn't want it to end for them."