The rain fell on everyone, as it always does, N.C. State and Coastal Carolina alike. And there wasn’t a drop anywhere Tuesday afternoon, barely a cloud in sight.
Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that the way things worked out Monday night, when the umpires insisted the teams play the ninth inning in a monsoon until there was no choice but to suspend play until Tuesday, didn’t exactly work to N.C. State’s advantage.
And with the teams divided by the finest of margins – a single pitch, a single strike – any little thing could have swung the balance from N.C. State to Coastal Carolina, from having to pitch in the rain that started as a drizzle in the bottom of the eighth and became a torrential downpour in top of the ninth to playing 15 innings without coach Elliot Avent, ejected and then suspended – entirely justifiably – for a Yakety Sax-worthy tirade at the home-plate umpire in Monday’s first game.
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Or maybe Coastal Carolina was just that little bit better, and what happened in Tuesday’s explosive coda to the championship game, to the regional, to N.C. State’s season, was just baseball’s way of settling, finally, on the better team.
There’s also no getting around the fact that without two injured starting pitchers, the Wolfpack was one strike away from a super regional. N.C. State had a two-run lead with two outs in the top of the ninth and an 0-2 count when Evan Braband hit Coastal’s Tyler Chadwick on the knee, opening the door to a four-run Coastal rally and a quick bottom of the ninth for a 7-5, season-ending N.C. State loss.
In a regional that endured more than eight hours of rain delays, with three games that went past midnight, it figured conditions would play a role somehow. When play resumed Tuesday, N.C. State had a 5-3 lead, but Coastal Carolina had the bases loaded with one out, having started the rally Monday night at roughly the same moment the skies opened with a vengeance.
“When you’re pitching, it’s raining like that, it’s hard to hold the ball,” said N.C. State reliever Cody Beckman, who walked both batters he faced to start the wet ninth after striking out four of the five batters in the dry seventh and eighth.
We were kind of in control. I’m not saying the rain had anything to do with it, but getting a 12-hour break, things can change a little bit. It’s disappointing. But that’s baseball.
N.C. State’s Preston Palmeiro
Desperate to finish a game that had already been delayed by more than two hours, the umpires let the inning proceed until conditions had become thoroughly farcical, the rain so heavy that Coastal would imminently be flooded out of the visiting dugout.
That made for an anxious night for everyone, suspending the game with runners on base and seasons hanging in the balance and Coastal’s G.K. Young facing a 1-0 count against Braband.
“I would be lying if I said I had gotten any sleep,” Young said. “It was the longest night of my life.”
The NCAA’s on-site officials, not the weather, were solely to blame for his insomnia, having pushed the start time of Monday’s second game back to 7:40 p.m. for no valid reason. While there was briefly a light rain after N.C. State’s 8-1 win to force a winner-take-all seventh game, it stopped well before the scheduled start time of 6:05 p.m. The game could have started as early as 6:30.
“After the rain had stopped, the threat of rain was still a possibility,” an NCAA spokesman wrote in an email Monday night. “(The on-site) NCAA representative did have conversations about moving Game 7 to (Tuesday) but after having discussions it was decided to make sure the storms had passed.”
Absent the NCAA’s dithering, the game almost certainly would have reached a conclusion Monday, even with a brief rain delay in the fifth. Instead, the teams ended up having to play on Tuesday anyway, inserting an awkward 14-hour pause at a pivotal moment in the game.
“We were kind of in control,” N.C. State’s Preston Palmeiro said. “I’m not saying the rain had anything to do with it, but getting a 12-hour break, things can change a little bit. It’s disappointing. But that’s baseball.”
By the time Young resumed his stance and Braband retook the mound, the weather was ideal. For the Wolfpack, the ensuing result was anything but. After waiting 14 hours, after coming within a strike of advancing, N.C. State’s season was over in 17 minutes.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock