An 8-5 loss to No. 3 Louisville, after fighting back from four runs down, was not how N.C. State wanted to end the regular season on Saturday.
There was something to be gained in defeat and to be carried into this week’s ACC Championship, Wolfpack senior Jake Fincher said.
“Our a whole team is pretty confident we can make a run, and playing up to Louisville this weekend will help us moving forward,” Fincher said.
Louisville scored three runs in the ninth, two on a clutch single by Logan Taylor, to set a new season record for ACC wins (25).
The Cardinals (42-14, 25-5 ACC) took the series from the Wolfpack (31-20, 15-14), which won 3-2 on Friday night.
N.C. State closed the regular season with 10 wins in the last 12 games to earn the No. 6 seed in the ACC Championship. The Wolfpack will be in Pool B with Miami, Notre Dame and the winner of the Virginia-Georgia Tech play-in game.
The schedule has not been set for pool play. The two play-in games are set for Tuesday.
N.C. State was in the play-in game last year in Greensboro and lost to North Carolina. The Wolfpackended up getting left out of the NCAA tournament.
“We definitely wanted to stay away from that play-in game, especially the way it turned out last year,” senior right fielder Bubby Riley said. “It feels nice knowing we have three games next week.”
With three more games in Durham this week, the Wolfpack can solidify its NCAA resume or maybe to do a little more.
“I’ll put us up against anybody,” Riley said. “We’re playing our best baseball right now, at the best time, and we’re not afraid of anybody.”
It was Riley’s two-out single in the eighth inning which tied the score at 5-5, after Louisville had built a 5-1 lead through five innings.
The Cardinals scored three runs in the third inning without getting a hit. Two walks, a hit by pitch and two errors added up to a nightmare start for the Wolfpack, which burned through two pitchers in the first four innings.
A two-run homer by freshman third baseman Joe Dunand in the sixth helped N.C. State’s cause but Louisville, which has been to the College World Series two years in a row, kept coming up with answers.
Right fielder Corey Ray doubled to right in the ninth for Louisville, but Ryne Willard threw out Nick Solak at the plate.
A Zach Lucas bunt pushed Ray home and then Taylor followed two batters later with a two-out single through the right side of the infield.
The Wolfpack got two runners on in the ninth, Fincher had a leadoff single, but it couldn’t scratch a run off outstanding Louisville closer Zack Burdi.
“They’re a good team,” Riley said. “They pitch well and they’re really, really athletic and fast. They’re just constantly putting pressure on you.”
Louisville had already wrapped up the No. 1 seed before Thursday’s 4-3 win or Saturday’s win and will play in Pool A with Florida State, Clemson and the North Carolina-Virginia Tech winner this week in Durham. But the Cards eclipsed the ACC’s best post-expansion conference record with their 25-5 mark in their first year in the league.
After missing the NCAA tournament last season, N.C. State’s late-season flourish puts them in position to get back in the 64-team field for the 12th time in 14 years.
Avent, who has led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament 13 times in 18 seasons, was confident this team, with an RPI of No. 35 and six wins over top 25 RPI teams, would be included in the NCAA field.
“They’re in the tournament, if they’re not in the tournament this year, you know, there’s nothing else you can do,” Avent said of his team. “They’re in.”
A few more wins in Durham could only help.