You can win the ACC tournament after a loss in the first game of pool play. It has happened, twice actually, in this format.
N.C. State also could be eliminated before it takes the field again. The Wolfpack no longer controls its own fate in the ACC tournament after a 7-3 loss to Florida State in pool play Wednesday.
The Seminoles (35-19) scored four runs in the eighth inning to pick up where they left off in last season’s tournament against N.C. State. FSU beat the Wolfpack 6-2 in the title game last year in Durham and has won six of its past eight tournament games against N.C. State.
The Wolfpack (34-19) led 3-1 after five innings, but its bullpen couldn’t close out the Seminoles. If FSU wins its 3 p.m. game Thursday against Georgia Tech, N.C. State will be mathematically eliminated from the pool before facing top-seeded Miami at 7 p.m.
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The Wolfpack needs to win its final two games, and have FSU lose twice, in order to get back to the championship game for the sixth time in 16 years.
“I thought we played pretty good today, but obviously we weren’t perfect,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said.
Neither was Florida State, which bobbled some bunts and helped N.C. State early. The Wolfpack’s first run came off of a double steal in the second inning when Brock Deatherage scored after an errant throw by shortstop Taylor Walls.
N.C. State got five good innings from starter Cory Wilder, who gave up two runs – one in the first on a home run by John Sansone. The Wolfpack scored single runs in the second, third and fourth innings to stake Wilder to a 3-1 lead.
But normally reliable Will Gilbert gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings to take the loss. The Noles also made the plays they needed to in the field, notably Sansone’s snare of a Chance Shepard line drive at third base to end the eighth inning with Wolfpack runners on first and third.
“We hung in there,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “We fought. We didn’t panic.”
First baseman Dylan Busby had a key, two-out single in the sixth to even the score at 3, which set the Noles up for the deciding rally in the eighth. Jackson Lueck doubled to lead off the inning. A walk, a bunt and a sacrifice fly followed to break a the tie. Walls had a two-run single to add to the final margin.
N.C. State’s players said the right things after dropping its first game.
“I don’t think it changes our mentality going into the next two games,” said catcher Andrew Knizner, who had two of the Wolfpack’s seven hits.
“We’re going to prepare just like we prepared for this game and go out there and play good baseball and come away with two victories.”
The ACC switched to a round-robin, pool-play format in 2007. In the first nine years of the format, twice a team lost its first game and came back to win the tournament. North Carolina (2007) and Florida State (2010, at N.C. State’s expense) pulled off that trick.
N.C. State will need a lot of help to join that group.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio