Some of the damage has been self-inflicted. Some of it unavoidable. N.C. State hasn’t made things easy on itself this weekend. The weather has been hard on everyone.
Still, after fending off elimination with another fence-rattling offensive display against Navy, 17-1 this time, the Wolfpack is two wins away from salvaging this regional. All N.C. State has to do is beat Coastal Carolina twice, the team that held the Wolfpack to four hits in a 4-0 shutout win that started Saturday night and ended early Sunday afternoon.
So that’s the big question facing N.C. State: How can the Wolfpack find a way to generate against Coastal Carolina at least some fraction of the offense it generated against the Midshipmen? And do it twice?
“We can take a lot of things from this game and learn from it,” N.C. State shortstop Joe Dunand said. “We had some good approaches today at the plate, not swinging at balls in the dirt, taking a lot of pitches up. A lot of guys in the lineup had good at-bats today. You just tip your hat to those Coastal pitchers yesterday, and we’ll see them again tomorrow.”
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The Wolfpack’s pitching situation has at least stabilized after an out-of-nowhere marathon start by Johnny Piedmonte, whose ERA dropped from 7.11 to 5.56 by the time he exited the game with one out to go, having thrown a staggering 125 pitches. Christian Demby stranded the two inherited runners for the one-out, non-save.
The crowd booed his removal before giving him an extended and deserved standing ovation and curtain call, but while sentiment may have argued for letting him finish, commonsense prevailed in a sport that all too often makes impossible demands of young arms.
Piedmonte’s previous career long was 5 2/3 innings, and he’s already had Tommy John surgery once. He was told he was coming out after the eighth, argued to stay in for the ninth and might have finished it had Navy not tagged him for a couple singles.
So while he may not have gotten the complete game, he did everything else the Wolfpack could possibly have asked, keeping Navy off the board until the eighth, striking out seven and walking only one. State’s defense, meanwhile, continued to shine, tacking on two more double plays to the five turned already in the regional.
The offense is the big question. The Wolfpack scored 30 runs on 36 hits in 17 innings against Navy, including eight home runs. How can N.C. State get some of that going against Coastal, and not once but twice? There shouldn’t be any mystery about it in this third (and potentially fourth) meeting of the season.
“We know them,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “They know us.”
The Wolfpack will need to figure it out to repeat its feat of 2012, when N.C. State blew a big lead in its second game to lose to Vanderbilt, beat UNC Wilmington in an elimination game and then beat Vanderbilt twice to advance to a super regional at Florida. That was also the Wolfpack’s last home loss in an NCAA regional.
“We’ve seen the other side of that, too,” Chance Shepherd said. “We were up 2-0 on TCU last year and they came back and beat us twice. We know it can be done.”
Coastal has thrown both of its aces, and there will be a drop-off to whomever gets the call Monday. But the Chanticleers also spent Sunday afternoon relaxing while N.C. State spent it sizzling in the sun – especially while sitting in Doak Field’s unshaded visiting dugout. (State will be in it again Monday afternoon.)
That’s the advantage Coastal Carolina earned with their win, and N.C. State could have done something about that. There was nothing the Wolfpack could do about the weather, and instead of beating Coastal Carolina twice in two days the Wolfpack is going to have to beat the rested Chanticleers twice Monday.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock