In three different seasons in three different ballparks, N.C. State has held a lead in the seventh inning with a regional title in focus.
The third chance unfolded in an all-too-familiar refrain for the Wolfpack, with unearned runs, poor pitching and errors eroding N.C. State's chances and giving Kentucky a 10-5 victory and a Super Regional berth for the first time in program history.
The Wolfpack held a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning until Kentucky put up three runs apiece on only two hits in the seventh and ninth innings.
"I'm proud of how we played," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. "They played so hard and so well. Just a couple of things happened in the (seventh) and ninth innings."
Kentucky took advantage in the seventh after left hander Cody Beckman walked the first two batters, who were sacrificed into scoring position. Shortstop Joe Dunand misplayed a grounder that would have plated a run anyway, leading Tristan Pompey to score.
A passed ball moved runners into scoring position, and Kentucky catcher Kole Cottam hammered a two-run double off of the right field wall to give the Wildcats a 7-5 margin.
"I thought he had the big at-bat tonight," Avent said of the Kentucky catcher's go-ahead hit.
Dunand again produced a run-scoring error in the ninth inning on a failed backhand attempt, and Will Wilson threw the ball away from first base that allowed a run to score in the same inning to provide the final five-run margin.
Kentucky's offense did not use the home run ball that contributed to its leading nine SEC offensive categories, but the Wildcats forced little defensive and pitching mistakes that added up for N.C. State.
"The stress doesn't affect you when you're an athlete in this caliber, but they fought hard and we fought hard," Beckman said.
Johnny Piedmonte started on the mound for the Wolfpack and struggled to find the plate, with four walks a symptom of the four earned runs he allowed in 3 2/3 innings in his final college start.
"Johnny doesn't walk people, so Johnny never really had Johnny's command," Avent said. "A lot of things happened, but he didn't have his normal command."
Brett Kinneman broke the scoring open with a two-run towering home run to right field in the second inning.
Piedmonte struggled with command and fell deep into trouble in the fourth inning. The right hander walked Kentucky designated hitter Luke Becker to lead off the inning, then allowed a single and another walk to load the bases.
Marcus Carson drove in two runs with a double that chased Piedmonte in favor of Beckman. He allowed an RBI groundout, hit a batter and gave up an RBI infield single in a matter of some untimely luck.
After the messy inning, the Wolfpack faced a 4-2 deficit that was erased when Will Wilson drove in Dunand with an RBI double and scored on a sacrifice fly.
N.C. State took a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning when Josh McLain cashed in on a two-out walk with an RBI double off of Kentucky closer Logan Salow, who retired his first 12 Wolfpackbatters over his last two appearances.
But then came an error-filled finish that N.C. State knows all too well in a regional final.