OMAHA, Neb. — In the moments after his team’s 2-1 defeat against UCLA on Tuesday night in the College World Series, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent thought about the few mistakes his team made.
There was a base running blunder in the third inning that might have cost the Wolfpack a run. There was a wild pitch in the fifth that allowed the Bruins to score the go-ahead run.
Avent thought about those things and lamented them. The one thing he tried not to think about, though, is what lie ahead for his team. With the loss, the Wolfpack play North Carolina on Thursday in an elimination game.
The winner advances to play UCLA on Friday in the College World Series semifinals. The loser goes home, back to North Carolina.
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels will be meeting for the fifth time. They played twice in Raleigh during the regular season, splitting those games. UNC then prevailed in an 18-inning victory in the ACC tournament. Then the Wolfpack came away with an 8-1 victory against the Tar Heels on Sunday in the College World Series.
Now this, with a pair of seasons on the line. Avent wasn’t ready to address it. Tuesday’s defeat was still too fresh.
“There can’t be any thought of that right now,” Avent said. “The emotions of this game (against UCLA) are what you’re thinking about. So that’s not even a thought process right now.
“I’m sure we’re going to replay everything we did in this ballgame – myself, the players. And if it’s on, they’re showing a replay tonight, I’m sure we’ll stay up quite late and watch it.”
If the Wolfpack indeed stayed up to watch a replay in the early hours of Wednesday morning, they watched a game they could have won – perhaps should have won – if not for a mistake here or there. In the third inning, the Bruins threw out Jake Armstrong, N.C. State’s designated hitter, at home plate.
Armstrong had been a second or two too slow to make his move toward home after UCLA left fielder Brenton Allen unleashed a wild throw into the infield. The throw sailed over home plate, to the backstop, and maybe Armstrong scores if he’d been a little quicker off of third base. Instead, UCLA starting pitcher Nick Vander Tuig tagged him out at home.
Then, in the fifth, UCLA scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Grant Sasser, the Wolfpack’s second pitcher, threw a pitch that made it past Brett Austin, the Wolfpack’s catcher. A run came home on the play, and that was it.
The game turned on two mistakes. The Bruins, meanwhile, rarely made any – at least none N.C. State capitalized on.
UNC and N.C. State will play on Thursday to decide which team plays on and which team goes home. On Tuesday night, though, another rematch appeared to be the last thing on Avent’s mind.
A couple plays that got away were already haunting him.
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