Sports

NC State takes series from UNC and No. 3 seed in ACC tournament

The March version of N.C. State picked the right time to make a comeback.

The Wolfpack throttled UNC 11-0 on Saturday to close out the regular season. That’s 22 runs in two days and the distinct feel of the early-season juggernaut, which won its first 19 games.

“We’re definitely getting that spark back,” said N.C. State first baseman Evan Edwards, who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.

The encore to Friday’s 11-2 win at UNC gives the Wolfpack (41-15, 18-12 ACC) the No. 3 seed in the ACC baseball tournament. It was also its first series win in Chapel Hill since 2004.

The Wolfpack will roll into Durham with series wins over Clemson and UNC and eight wins in its past 11 games. N.C. State will be the top seed in Pool C with No. 6 Florida State and No. 10 Wake Forest.

“I’m not saying we’re playing our best baseball, but I think we’re getting there,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said.

The Tar Heels (38-17, 17-13), who won Thursday’s series opener 5-3, drop to the No. 5 seed and will be in Pool D with No. 4 Miami and No. 9 Virginia.

N.C. State was running hot, 27-2 after a series win over Virginia on March 31, and then April was unkind. Injuries were a problem but the healthier N.C. State gets, the better it plays.

The heart of the order has found its form, with both shortstop Will Wilson and catcher Patrick Bailey healthy, looked like it was supposed to. Wilson, Bailey and Edwards — the No. 2 through 4 hitters — combined to go 6 for 12 with six runs scored, four RBIs and two doubles.

The biggest difference in the game was on the defensive side. N.C. State got key outs on difficult catches by rightfielder Devonte Brown in the first inning and leftfielder Jonny Butler in the second.

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N.C. State’s Devonte Brown (3) makes a diving catch in the first inning during N.C. State’s game against UNC at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, May 18, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

UNC imploded with four errors and several poor decisions on where to go with the ball. N.C. State’s five-run third inning couldn’t have been entirely avoided with better defense but it certainly would have helped UNC.

The Heels unraveled in the third when Butler reached on error to lead off and then Wilson singled. A double by Bailey scored both and then Edwards drove in Bailey with a single. Tyler McDonough bounced to first but Michael Busch airmailed the throw to second into left field and Edwards scored.

Completely uncharacteristic of a Mike Fox team, UNC has more multiple error games (16) this season than error-free games (14).

Avent noted the most important part of the Wolfpack’s early-season success is the health of the bullpen. N.C. State used five pitchers to piece together the shutout, the first at home for UNC this season. Nick Swiney worked 2.2 innings for the win and to improve to 7-1.

“I think that’s why we were so good: Our pitchers threw strikes and our defense made plays,” Bailey said.

Relievers Dalton Feeney and Kent Klyman, who were banged up in April, each threw a scoreless inning. For the series, N.C. State’s bullpen threw 14 innings and gave up 10 hits and three runs.

“When we were whatever we were, the bullpen was lights out,” Avent said.

After a midseason lull, the lights are back on for N.C. State at the right time. The Wolfpack’s postseason prospects couldn’t be brighter.

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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