RALEIGH — A season that began with aspirations of Omaha, Neb., is in danger of ending without a trip to the ACC tournament. N.C. State faced that reality before its 8-5 defeat against Wake Forest on Monday night, and now the Wolfpack is running out of time to save a season that has been more difficult than anyone envisioned.
It has been a long few months for N.C. State, which ended last season in Omaha at the College World Series, and so it was again Monday night during a loss that had a bit of everything: a pitchers’ duel early, some heroics late, an extra-inning offensive outpouring, a near-comeback and, finally, after 10 innings, a loss that dropped N.C. State into a tie with Pittsburgh for the No. 10 seed in the ACC tournament.
The Wolfpack led 1-0 through five innings Monday night and scored once in the ninth to send the game to extra innings. Wake Forest, though, scored six times in the 10th – in a variety of ways.
The Deacons scored off of a bases-loaded double from Grant Shambley. They scored off of a bases-loaded walk. And then off of a wild pitch. And then they scored twice on a bizarre throwing error by Wolfpack reliever Cody Beckman, who instead of throwing home with the bases loaded overthrew first base.
N.C. State coach Elliott Avent attempted to be optimistic. He said he wasn’t disappointed in his team’s play.
“Disappointing we gave up six in the 10th,” he said. But “we played well. We played a good Wake Forest team, played really well. We were one bad hop up the middle to shut them out 1-0, and then a bloop hit in the ninth from coming back and winning 3-2. Giving up six in the 10th is disappointing.
“Then you come back and have one guy away from having the tying run come to the plate. I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Indeed, the Wolfpack (29-21, 11-16) made it interesting in its hlaf of the 10th. Its first two batters reached base, and then leadoff hitter Trea Turner drove them home with a three-run home run over the left-field fence. That cut Wake Forest’s lead to 8-5 with no outs, and there was some belief in N.C. State’s dugout.
“We kind of got a little bit of that hope back and felt like we were right back in it,” Turner said.
The next batter after Turner, Logan Ratledge, walked. That’s when Wake Forest (27-24, 13-14) made a pitching change, and Nate Jones, a senior right-hander, retired the final three batters in order to end the game.
Avent and his players thought of what might have been. N.C. State starter Patrick Peterson retired the first 10 batters and didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, when Wake Forest tied the score and then took the lead on back-to-back RBI singles.
In the eighth, Wolfpack ace Carlos Rodon, whom Avent used as a pinch hitter, drove a ball to the warning track in left, and Turner followed with a line drive that Shambley caught at the left-field wall. Then, after Jake Fincher tied the score with a single in the ninth, N.C. State ended the inning with two runners stranded.
“It definitely says we have fight in us, and we’re never, ever going to give up,” Fincher said of the Wolfpack’s ninth-inning rally, and its comeback effort in the 10th. “Just like kind of how our season’s been going. We put ourselves in a hole and we’re still fighting.”
N.C. State, which will travel to Virginia Tech this weekend, will need that fight if it’s to make the ACC tournament. Only 10 of the ACC’s 15 teams will advance to the tournament, and the Wolfpack and Pittsburgh have identical 11-16 records in ACC play. Pitt, though, owns the tiebreaker because of its victory this season against Virginia.
Even so, Avent said he told his players that their postseason hopes are still alive.
“We don’t really need help,” he said. “If we sweep, we’re in. If we sweep, we’re in. Bottom line.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter