It’s only March, and there’s a lot of baseball left, but N.C. State needed a kick-start to its sluggish season.
The Wolfpack might have gotten one on Friday night with a 3-1 win over No. 1 Louisville. Freshman Brad Debo and junior Evan Mendoza staked starter Sean Adler to an early lead and reliever Joe O’Donnell did the rest.
N.C. State (13-10, 4-3 ACC) handed the Cardinals (19-2, 6-1) their second straight loss, and first in conference play, to rebound from a midweek loss to Campbell.
“That was a huge win for us,” said O’Donnell, who didn’t give up a run in 3 and 1/3 innings in relief. “It’s really big for our confidence, I think, going forward for the rest of the year.”
One win does not a season make but the Wolfpack, which opened the season ranked in the top 10, needed to find its footing. A series win over Miami last weekend helped even the Wolfpack’s ACC record, but it stumbled at home to Campbell in a 9-8 loss on Tuesday.
Louisville, meanwhile, started the season 19-0 and had its best pitcher, junior Brendan McKay, going. McKay, who entered the game with a 0.36 earned run average, had only given up two runs all season in 25 innings.
N.C. State doubled that up in the first. Debo, the designated hitter, and Mendoza, the third baseman, both doubled in runs with two outs in the first inning for a 2-0 lead.
Adler (3-2) only gave up a run in 5 and 2/3 innings, in his best start of the season. He struck out seven and allowed four hits against a Louisville lineup hitting .318.
“He pounded the zone,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “I looked up all night tonight and (the count) was 1-2.”
Adler struck out two batters in a scoreless, 12-pitch first inning.
“As soon as I saw Adler’s first inning, I knew it was on,” Debo said.
McKay, who struck out 14, wasn’t bad, either. He was just off for the standard he has set this season. McKay and Adler put up zeroes on the scoreboard until Andy Cosgrove hit a solo home run in the fifth.
“With those guys battling each other, you can’t ask for anything better,” Debo said. “It’s just awesome to watch. If you’re a fan in the stands you’ve got to love that.”
Louisville got to Adler for a run in the sixth, an RBI double by shortstop Devin Hairston, but O’Donnell came on and was up to the task.
“When Sean’s going like that, you just don’t want to mess it up,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell didn’t. He struck out five and got pinch-hitter Ryan Summers swinging for the last out. After a slow start to March, the Wolfpack might be able to build some confidence off of the win.
“There’s no question,” Avent said. “Our locker room, they know how good Louisville is. Louisville is very, very good and Louisville played well tonight and Brendan McKay pitched well tonight.
“We competed probably the way I’m used to N.C. State competing.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio