RALEIGH — The keypad code to get into N.C. State’s locker room was "1968," a reminder of the Wolfpack’s first trip to the College World Series 45 years ago.
After Sunday’s marathon win over Rice in the Super Regional, 5-4 in 17 innings, to get back to Omaha, Neb., and the CWS, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said there will be a new code.
There’s already new history for Wolfpack fans, who have supported a mostly star-crossed athletic department since the school’s incredible national championship in men’s basketball in 1983, to celebrate.
Both the N.C. State football and basketball teams entered their seasons in 2012-13 with big expectations and neither delivered, and even had spectacular stumbles.
There was also a lot expected of the baseball team, and after a rough start, it looked like the Pack would follow the football and basketball teams on a path of broken dreams. Instead, there’s a new CWS chapter to write.
And there has been no shortage of drama. The Wolfpack (49-14) rallied for three runs in the ninth inning Sunday to push the game into extra innings — and past the seven-hour mark from the first pitch.
"We kind of thrive in dramatic situations," said senior pitcher Ethan Ogburn, who worked five innings in relief for the clinching win Sunday.
Sunday’s comeback played out like a juiced up version of Saturday’s win over the Owls. Senior rightfielder Jake Fincher, the hero from Saturday’s win, delivered a two-run double in the ninth to keep the Pack afloat.
Senior first baseman Tarran Senay then evened the game at 4 by driving in Fincher with a double. The game stayed tied for another eight innings.
Normally, a 17-inning game would be considered unusually long, except the Wolfpack lost an 18-inning epic to North Carolina on May 25 in the ACC tournament. By comparison, State’s 14-inning win over Virginia Tech on April 5 was an exercise in expedience.
"You really only enjoy something like that if you come out on top," said senior centerfielder Brett Williams.
Relievers Grant Sasser and Chris Overman, who didn’t give up a hit in four innings, and Ogburn, who struck out six in five innings, made sure the Wolfpack won on Sunday.
Rice did its part to help. After State’s comeback in the ninth, the Owls loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk. With two outs, and the bases loaded, Rice leftfielder Keenan Cook inexplicably attempted to bunt. Cook’s ill-fated bunt popped straight up to Sasser.
After Senay led off the 17th with a single, Williams provided the game-winning double. Rice got two home runs earlier in the game from second baseman Christian Stringer but Ogburn got Stringer to fly out to left to end the game.
While the players celebrated with each other on the field, thousands water-logged fans, most of whom withstood a 77-minute rain delay, enjoyed an almost surreal moment.
The football program hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979, the men’s basketball team last won the ACC in 1987 and hasn’t been back to the Final Four since ’83. Other than a Final Four in women’s basketball in ’98 and one in men’s soccer in ’90, there have been few truly memorable wins for State fans to savor. There have been plenty of painful losses in the interim, though.
"It’s great to win something," said former basketball great Chris Corchiani, who was at Doak Field on Sunday night. "It just seems like we’ve been snake-bitten for so long, it’s really nice to experience this."
The way that this team went about winning the Super Regional, and delivering the moment, made the reward even sweeter, Avent said.
"You stick with things," said Avent, who’s in his 17th season at his alma mater. "If you stick with things, then occasionally it’s going to break out and happen. That’s what this club does."
Not only does Omaha await, but with one more win by North Carolina, who was rained out on Monday, the Tar Heels would be the Wolfpack’s first opponent in the CWS.
N.C. State wasn’t too worried about UNC on Sunday night. There was too much to celebrate in their own liberating accomplishment.
But, as Senay said as midnight approached late Sunday night: "We’re not done yet."