N.C. State's Logan Ratledge had one thing in mind Friday when he came to bat in the ninth inning, and it wasn't keeping his 21-game hitting streak alive.
The Pack trailed Virginia 8-3 at Doak Field. Jake Fincher led off the ninth with a bloop double and Ratledge simply wanted to get on base with Preston Palmeiro on deck, help further spark a last-gasp rally.
Virginia reliever Alec Bettinger threw four inside pitches and Ratledge never took a swing. Drawing a walk, his hitting streak came to an end, and while the Wolfpack didn't rally to win, his team-before-self approach to the at-bat said a lot about the senior second baseman from Charlotte.
"It's not something you think about," Ratledge said of the streak. "It's baseball. You know it's going to end eventually. It's one of those things where you don't worry about it and just keep doing what you've been doing."
His hitting streak was tied for the third-best in school history, five games shy of Greg Briley's record set in 1986. Ratledge had boosted his average from .312 to .384 before Friday's game and was second only to Will Craig of Wake Forest (.401) in the ACC.
"He's been sensational," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. "You can't play much better than he's played this season. He's kind of been our glue. He's just a mentally tough person."
Ratledge, like the Pack, struggled Friday against the Cavaliers. His sixth-inning error, on a potential double-play grounder, was critical as Virginia ignited for five runs and a 6-0 lead.
Ratledge popped up and struck out twice in his first three at-bats. He was hit by a pitch in the seventh, scoring on Palmeiro's three-run homer, then had the walk in going 0-3.
"It was obviously a good run," Ratledge said. "I'll just get ready for the next game and try to get back on another one."
Ratledge and Fincher were a part of the touted recruiting class that was rated fourth nationally by Baseball America. Carlos Rodon, Trea Turner and Brett Austin were the headliners of the class, helping the Pack reach the 2013 College World Series. All three are pros now, Rodon already in the major leagues, but Ratledge and Fincher played invaluable roles on that special N.C. State team.
Fincher's spectacular diving catch against Binghamton in the 2013 NCAA regional was one of the best ever at Doak Field. The outfielder from Charlotte also had some clutch hits, including a game-winner against Rice in the NCAA Super Regional.
Avent said Ratledge and Fincher now were the "heart and soul" of his team. Fincher, the Pack's centerfielder the past two years, is batting .319 as the leadoff hitter while Ratledge, batting second, leads the Pack in many offensive categories.
Ratledge hit a pedestrian .274 as a junior with a .367 on-base percentage and .375 slugging percentage. But he had a team-best 15 doubles and six homers before Saturday's scheduled game, improving his on-base percentage to .471 and slugging percentage to .604 .
"He's been phenomenal this year, really helping us when our offense has slumped a little bit," Fincher said
Ratledge, who played at Ardrey Kell High, was listed at 5 feet 11 and 176 pounds last season. He's bigger at 192 pounds and he's stronger, Avent said, after working with strength and conditioning coach Gabe Button.
But Ratledge said he's also taken a more cerebral approach to his hitting. In the offseason he analyzed a lot of video of his at-bats, especially against ACC opponents, looking for tendencies, looking for an edge.
The work paid off. He has had 20 multiple-hit games this season, getting his first four-hit game Tuesday against East Carolina.
"I think it's a combination of being in the league several years and spending the time in the offseason figuring out how teams pitch you," Ratledge said. "I just think being more mentally prepared has helped me a lot in the box."
But what Ratledge and the Pack want is more wins, and in a hurry. N.C. State (21-18) fell to 9-12 in the ACC after Friday's loss to Virginia and has dropped nine of the past 12 games overall, damaging its NCAA hopes.
"We've had a lot of breaks not go our way," Ratledge said. "At the same time, what we can control is to come out and play as hard as we can every single day and hope for the best."
Maybe put a streak together.