It’s only fitting that it took 17 innings and more than 7 1/2 hours to end a drought that is now over at 45 years. As N.C. State celebrated in front of the mound, Brett Williams, who drove in the winning run, was the last onto the pile, at 11:30 p.m., leaping high into the air.
The Wolfpack is going to the College World Series for the first time since 1968, and it took a game worthy of that lofty goal to get it there. Williams doubled in Tarran Senay in the top of the 17th before Ethan Ogburn locked down the 5-4 win with his fifth scoreless inning of relief.
Forty-five years. That’s how long it had been since this proud ACC program made it to the College World Series. That’s the drought that ended Sunday, to the delight of a capacity crowd at Doak Field that thinned out during a 12th-inning rain delay only to fill back in as fans wandered through the open gates, lured by yet another classic game in a spring that has been overflowing with them.
Only twice before had N.C. State even been in this position. The first time, in Gastonia in 1968, N.C. State beat Florida State 4-1. In the forty-five years since, the Wolfpack had only one other shot – 2008, in Game 3 of a super regional at Georgia. The Wolfpack lost 17-6.
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So it was hardly routine for N.C. State to be this close to Omaha, needing to win one of two games to end the drought.
A day after the Wolfpack rallied for a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth, this newest incarnation of the Cardiac Pack summoned another surge, scoring three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the score 4-4 – but stranding the go-ahead run at second.
Stalemate ensued, as did a 76-minute rain delay in the bottom of the 12th. The Wolfpack threw everything into the breech, using nine pitchers. N.C. State had baserunners in the top of the 10th, 12th and 14th, but never could bring anyone home, leaving the door open for the Owls, who could never take advantage.
N.C. State won Saturday with Carlos Rodon on the mound – expected at this point – but it took a team effort to win Sunday. Logan Jernigan went five innings, Jake Fincher knocked in two runs with a one-out single in the ninth, Senay doubled him in and Jake Armstrong reached base five times in a variety of methods. Ogburn, meanwhile, threw five critical innings of extra-inning relief, giving up only two hits and striking out six.
And now the Wolfpack will turn its attention to Chapel Hill, where its opening opponent in Omaha will be the winner of Monday’s game between North and South Carolina. Should the Tar Heels win, it would renew a rivalry that has already generated one amazingly memorable game this season. It took 18 innings to determine a winner at the ACC Tournament in Durham. Who knows what might happen in Omaha?
The Tar Heels have to get there first, but that would be nothing new for them, after going to the College World Series five times in the past seven years already.
N.C. State has been twice in the past 46 years, but as far as the Wolfpack is concerned, this is the beginning of a new streak, not the end of an old one.