RALEIGH — Wayne Graham, with almost 1,000 wins at Rice, knows what a win looks like.
With a one-run lead in the ninth, and his best relief pitcher on the mound, the Owls coach thought Saturdays Super Regional game at N.C. State looked like another winner.
We had the game, the veteran Rice coach said.
Rice had it right up until N.C. State walked off with it. Jake Finchers clutch single and Brett Williams hustle gave the Wolfpack a 4-3 win over Rice and moved N.C. State to within one win of the College World Series.
The two teams will meet again on Sunday at 4 p.m. with a trip to Omaha, Neb. on the line for the Wolfpack, which hasnt been to the CWS since 1968.
Williams, who scored the game-tying run, still had a good chunk of the dirt from the Doak Field batters box on his jersey after the game. You couldnt wipe the dirt off his retro jersey, or the smile off his face.
I was going to do anything I could to get on base, Williams said.
N.C. State (48-14) needed the late-game theatrics from Fincher, who delivered a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth, and Williams after a mere mortal outing from starter Carlos Rodon.
Rodon, who hadnt given up an earned run in the previous 19 innings in the postseason, got chased in the ninth by Rices resilient lineup.
The Owls (44-19) got singles from first baseman Skyler Ewing and catcher Hunter Kopycinski to put runners on first and second with no outs. Grant Sasser relieved Rodon and got shortstop Ford Stainback to strike out but Stringer pulled a double down the right-field line for the 3-2 lead.
With closer Zech Lemond, who had already worked out of trouble in the eighth, on the mound, Graham figured the Owls were set to take the series lead.
Lemond has been our guy all year, Graham said. He has been great all year, you cant complain.
Down 3-2, Williams led off the ninth with a walk. He stole second and then advanced to third on a wild pickoff attempt by Lemond. With Williams on third, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent elected to have second baseman Logan Ratledge bunt.
Ratledges first bunt attempt went foul and it also signaled to Rice what N.C. State was trying to do.
After the first attempt failed, I knew they were going to be ready for it, Williams said. I tried to get the best jump I possibly could.
Ratledges bunt went right to Blake Fox, a late replacement for Ewing at first, but Foxs throw came in high to Kopycinski. Williams slid under the tag to tie the game, 3-3.
Ratledge went to first on the bunt and then second when Jake Armstrong was hit by a pitch. Ratledge and Armstrong advanced a base on a ground out by shortstop Trea Turner. With two outs, Fincher came through with a clean single to left to plate Armstrong.
Given Rodon was on the hook for the loss, and how strong Rodon has been the past two seasons, Fincher was glad to pick the lefty star up.
It feels good to repay him once for all the times he has pitched deep into games and weve struggled to get him runs, Fincher said.
The Wolfpack looked like it was set up for an easy afternoon after putting up two runs in the first inning. Turner led off with a double to the leftfield wall and scored after a sacrifice bunt and a fielders choice.
First baseman Tarran Senay, who reached on a fielders choice, scored on a wild pitch from Rice starter Austin Kubitza to put N.C. State up 2-0.
Rice pushed a run across in the fourth on a two-out, RBI single from Ewing and Stringer tied the game at 2 with a solo homer in the fifth.
N.C. State only scored in the first inning and the ninth, with nothing in between, but it was all the Wolfpack needed.