RALEIGH — N.C. State’s Jake Fincher was waiting for Brett Williams at the Wolfpack dugout, waiting to say a few choice words.
Rice had scored a run in the top of the ninth inning Saturday to take a 3-2 lead in the opening game of the NCAA’s Raleigh Super Regional. Williams was to be the Pack’s leadoff batter.
“My boy,” Fincher later said, smiling. “I told him, ‘Do your thing. You got this, man. Get us going.’ I had a feeling about it.”
Williams and Fincher are roommates, outfielders and best friends. They have that strong bond and both were confident the Wolfpack, scoreless after scoring two runs in the first, could fight back, stage a comeback, and get the job done in the ninth.
Williams would start the inning off with a walk, steal second, move to third on an error and streak home to score the tying run on Logan Ratledge’s safety squeeze bunt. Fincher would take it from there, ripping a two-out single to left to win the game 4-3 and create instant bedlam at Doak Field.
Fincher, a sophomore from Charlotte, said the excitement of the moment engulfed him after the hit.
“Then I heard all the coaches yelling, ‘Touch first base, touch first base!’ ” he said, laughing. “I almost got a little too excited there.”
Fincher made it to first just ahead of a band of jubilant teammates looking to chase him down. The Pack had won on a day when southpaw ace Carlos Rodon labored a bit on the mound. When Rice starter Austin Kubitza settled down after the first to find his groove, the Owls – the 2003 NCAA champions – seemingly were getting the key outs and delivering the key hits.
Rice’s Christian Stringer slugged a solo homer off Rodon in the fifth and an RBI double in the ninth to push the Owls in front. With closer Zech Lemond on the mound, Rice appeared poised to finish it off.
But Williams, Fincher and the Pack wouldn’t let it happen. Fincher’s bottom-of-the-ninth single was his first walk-off hit at N.C. State, although he had a winning sacrifice fly to beat Davidson 4-3 on April 23 – the Pack’s last walk-off win this season.
Fincher had two hits Saturday, his team-leading 26th multiple-hit game of the season, and reached base for the 60th time in 62 games. He now has eight hits in regional and Super Regional play the past two weeks (8-for-15, .467), another team best.
A year ago, Fincher was used in center field when Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first game. With Williams back this season, Fincher was shifted to right.
Fincher’s teammates and coaches call him an unsung, “heart-and-soul” player. His spectacular diving catch against Binghamton in the NCAA regional opener last week at Doak was a game-changer as the Pack gritted out a win.
“It’s been an up-and-down year,” Fincher said. “But I just go out and play as hard as I can, every game, every play. I’ve tried to stay consistent with my hitting and not be free-swinging as much.”
In the ninth, against Lemond, Fincher said he zeroed in on the pitcher, blocking everything else out. His only thought: “Don’t be late on the ball.”
Fincher wasn’t late. The Wolfpack won and walked off.
“I love it for him,” Williams said.