Fair or foul? That was the question.
N.C. State’s Evan Mendoza ripped a three-run home run Monday that was first called a foul ball, then ruled fair in the second inning as the sixth-ranked Wolfpack topped No. 17 East Carolina 6-1 before a crowd of 3,048 at Doak Field.
Mendoza also singled in a run in the sixth for the Wolfpack (29-11), which was smoked 15-3 by the Pirates in Greenville last week, and junior left-hander Ryan Williamson had a strong, effective outing on the mound. But most of the postgame talk centered on the Mendoza homer.
After Brett Kinneman’s double for the Pack tied the score 1-1 in the second, Mendoza came up with two runners on and lifted a long fly down the left-field line. It was hooking as it went over the foul pole.
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“I thought it was foul,” Mendoza said. “Then I saw the third-base umpire say it was foul. And I’m not the biggest power guy, so I don’t get a hold of balls too often, so my first thought was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, a foul ball when I actually get a hold of one.’”
N.C. State coach Elliott Avent bolted out of the dugout to argue the ball was fair.
The umpires gathered for several minutes, causing Mendoza to feel more confident.
“I was watching the umpires and their facial expressions and how they nodded their heads,” he said, smiling.
Moments later, home-plate umpire Greg Street overruled the initial call and signaled for the home run. It was Mendoza’s second of the season, extended the third baseman’s hitting streak to 14 games and gave the Pack a 4-1 lead.
“The third-base umpire (Greg Howard) admitted he didn’t see it,” Avent said. “He had the decency to let the home-plate umpire know he didn’t see it, which gave Greg Street the option to make the right call.”
ECU coach Cliff Godwin, who didn’t think it was the right call, came charging out to protest.
“Their job is to make the right call. Was it the right call? I don’t know,” Godwin said. “It’s the third-base umpire’s call. … He’s got the best angle, and he’s the closest to it. One of the State coaches went out there and argued, and in my opinion, they got pressured to make a decision, and they flipped the decision.
“Look, it was a bad pitch. We made three bad pitches tonight, and State had the luxury to throw their Sunday starter. We battled.”
Williamson, coming off a rough outing at Georgia Tech, pitched into the seventh and allowed one run on six hits. The Pack, which turned four double plays and did not have an error, has won nine of its last 11 games and 13 of 16.
The Pack, in its last nonconference game of the season, again was without center fielder Josh McLain, its leading hitter. McLain suffered a broken bone in a hand in the April 17 game at Georgia Tech.
ECU lefty Nick Durazo started his second game this season against the Pack but didn’t survive the second. Freshman right-hander Chris Holba, who relieved Durazo, gave the Pirates (26-15) four strong innings, but the damage had been done.
The Pirates scored in the top of the second for a 1-0 lead on Turner Brown’s two-out, infield single.
The Pack’s final run came on an ECU throwing error in the eighth that allowed Preston Palmeiro to score.
“I think this probably is just as big a series as maybe Clemson or UNC,” Mendoza said. “You saw the fan turnout. It’s a popular game. I think this series is very good, very competitive, almost an (NCAA) regional feel. Very good.”