The NCAA tournament is quickly turning into the SEC and everybody else.
Auburn did its part by going unbeaten in the Raleigh Regional. The Tigers jumped on host N.C. State early and handed the Wolfpack a 15-7 loss on Sunday night.
Auburn (42-21) advanced to the Super Regional round for the first time since 1999 with a hitting clinic. The second-seeded Tigers had 50 hits and 40 runs in three wins in the regional. First baseman Josh Anthony led the Tigers on Sunday with three hits and pair of RBIs against the Wolfpack.
“All weekend, they did everything right,” N.C. State senior Brock Deatherage said of the Tigers. “They’ve just got a really good ballclub and they put it all together.”
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N.C. State (42-18) was the third ACC team knocked out of the NCAA tournament by an SEC team. The SEC could still send as many as nine teams to the Super Regional round and six to the College World Series.
The struggle for the ACC, other than No. 6 national seed North Carolina (which wouldn’t have to face an SEC team until the CWS), has been real. N.C. State, Florida State and Clemson were all regional hosts eliminated by SEC teams, with Georgia poised to add Duke to the list on Monday.
For the fourth straight year, second time in three years as the host, N.C. State couldn’t get out of regional play. If there’s any consolation for N.C. State, this regional loss wasn’t nearly as excruciating as the previous three.
“Any loss, or any way to end the season, is heartbreaking,” Deatherage said.
Auburn got started too quickly to really drag out any kind of drama or open any old wounds. N.C. State, which stayed alive with an 11-1 win over Army earlier on Sunday, was in trouble early. Freshman lefty David Harrison walked the first batter, Will Holland, he faced and Holland scored after a hit and sacrifice fly.
The Tigers scored two more runs on Harrison, with the help of one of N.C. State’s three errors in the game, and coach Elliott Avent decided to pull Harrison.
In a desperate move, Avent went to closer Joe O’Donnell in the second inning. O’Donnell, who didn’t pitch in any of N.C. State’s first three regional games, couldn’t stop the bleeding.
“We knew we’d have to use everybody tonight,” Avent said. “We knew we were thin.”
The fifth-year senior gave up another run in the second and two more in the third. After a season-high 71 pitches, over 2.1 innings, O’Donnell was gone and N.C. State was down 7-0.
The Wolfpack got three runs back in the fourth inning with a double by freshman Patrick Bailey and a triple by Deatherage.
Down 8-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, N.C. State had a chance to make the Tigers sweat with the bases loaded. With two outs, Auburn freshman Cody Greenhill struck out N.C. State’s Brett Kinneman on four pitches.
Auburn then responded with five runs in the eighth, three on a triple by Anthony.
Shane Shepard, one of seven seniors, knocked a three-run shot to right field in the eighth but it was too little, too late for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State won 40 games for the first time since 2013 and matched a school-record with 19 ACC wins but wasn’t able to get out of the regional round.
It won’t be hard, Deatherage said, after time to appreciate what the group did right, rather than how the season ended.
“Overall, the season was unbelievable,” Deatherage said. “This hurts but I’m already looking forward to seeing where we (the seniors) go and how the young guys come back next season.”