N.C. State took care of its own business.
The Wolfpack beat North Carolina 10-1 on Saturday to win the series with the Tar Heels and clinch the No. 5 seed in the ACC tournament.
While N.C. State (34-18, 15-13 ACC) waits for pool play to begin in Durham next week in the conference tournament, UNC can only watch.
The Tar Heels (34-21, 13-17) ended up tied for the 10th-place in the ACC standings with Wake Forest after dropping two of three games to the Wolfpack.
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Since Wake Forest swept a three-game series in late April, the Demon Deacons will be in the play-in game, against No. 7 seed Duke on Tuesday, instead of the Tar Heels.
There was a chance, after Friday’s loss to UNC, that N.C. State could have dropped down to the play-in round. The Wolfpack players, especially the ones who remember losing in that round in 2014, wanted to avoid the extra tournament round.
“We kind of looked at every scenario and we just said, you know what, just come out and win,” N.C. State junior Preston Palmeiro.
That’s what the Wolfpack did. It has been an eventful few weeks for N.C. State, losing six of seven ACC games before the UNC series and having coach Elliott Avent miss the previous series because of a snakebite.
But coupled with a 6-4 win on Thursday, N.C. State was able to take its first series from the Heels since 2011. Palmeiro and third baseman Evan Mendoza each homered and N.C. State’s bullpen was terrific in the season-finale.
“It put the taste of winning back in our mouth,” N.C. State catcher Andrew Knizner said. “It was good for us heading into the postseason.”
For UNC, it was just the opposite. The Tar Heels started the season 18-2 overall but won only two of eight ACC series down the stretch.
The Tar Heels missed the ACC tournament in 2010 but made the NCAA tournament. UNC’s RPI ranking, No. 14, might be enough to get them in the 64-team NCAA field.
UNC coach Mike Fox didn’t sound optimistic after Saturday’s loss that history could repeat itself.
“I don’t think our chances are very good,” said Fox, whose team missed the NCAA tournament field last year.
UNC’s fate was the least of N.C. State’s concerns after paying back Friday’s 16-4 loss. Palmeiro’s second home run in as many days gave the Wolfpack a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Mendoza’s two-run shot in the seventh stretched N.C. State’s lead to 7-1 and the Wolfpack never looked back.
There is some cause for concern going forward for N.C. State. Lefty starter Ryan Williamson could only go 3.1 innings. The senior has been dealing with some stiffness in triceps in his throwing arm.
Williamson struck out five of the 14 batters he faced but he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. This after Brian Brown (5.1 IP) and Cory Wilder (0.2 IP) were less than effective in the first two games with UNC.
“Absolutely I’m concerned,” Avent said. “This might be the first time we’ve played with a lead since I don’t know when.”
On the plus side, the bullpen did its job — as it did in Thursday’s 6-4 win. Senior lefty Will Gilbert, in particular, pleased Avent.
Gilbert threw three scoreless innings and only gave up one hit. Gilbert has been dealing with the same arm stiffness as Williamson and missed three weeks.
“Missing him was like missing your favorite puppy dog of all time,” Avent said. “He’s so special to this club.”
A day after giving up 16 runs, on 18 hits, N.C. State’s pitchers only allowed six hits and the one run.
“As long as our starting pitching can put us in position to win, our bullpen can close it out,” Knizner said.
That’s what N.C. State might have to rely on as the postseason begins. UNC will have to rely on the kindness of the NCAA selection committee.
The seeds, and pool pairings, for the ACC baseball tournament in Durham next week. Pool play games will be announced by the ACC on Sunday. Pool play begins on Wednesday:
1. Miami (21-7)
2. Louisville (22-8)
4. Florida State (16-10)
3. Virginia (19-11)
5. N.C. State (15-13)
6. Clemson (16-14)
▪ No. 7 Duke (14-15) vs. No. 10 Wake Forest (13-17), 11 a.m.
▪ No. 8 Boston College (13-15) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech (13-16), 3 p.m.