You can’t win four in a row without the first one.
Brian Brown and Patrick Bailey kept N.C. State’s baseball season alive on Saturday with a 9-3 win over Northeastern in the losers’ bracket in the Raleigh Regional of the NCAA tournament.
After being stunned by No. 4 seed Army on Friday night, the top-seeded Wolfpack (41-17) needed to string together four wins to advance through the double-elimination regional round.
Brown helped them take the first step. The ACC pitcher of the year bounced back from a subpar effort in the ACC tournament with a complete game.
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The Wolfpack, one of two hosts to lose to a No. 4 seed, didn’t have much time to stew on the Army loss, but that didn’t make it any easier to handle.
“It was still, at the end of the day, very disappointing,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “Hard to go to sleep. I don’t know when they went to sleep, but I went to bed about 3:30.”
Brown, a senior, understood the circumstances and stakes.
“Especially with our season on the line, I had to step for us, and I think I did that,” said Brown, who improved to 7-2.
The lefty, who set a new N.C. State career record for starts (61), saved the bullpen for Sunday’s potential doubleheader. N.C. State will face the loser of Saturday’s Auburn-Army game at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Bailey took care of the offense as the Wolfpack bats woke up from an untimely recent slumber. The freshman catcher homered twice and drove in five runs.
His two-run shot in the first inning was like breaking the seal on N.C. State’s offense, which struggled in Durham last week and could only scratch out a run in Friday’s loss to No. 4 seed Army.
“It was nice to get going early,” center fielder Josh McLain said. “When I got on base and he hit that home run, I knew that was going to spark us for the rest of the day.”
It helped that a bad back kept Northeastern (36-21) ace Sean Mellen from taking the ball on Saturday, but the Huskies were no match for Brown.
The Colonial Athletic regular-season champs managed seven hits on Brown and one run — a home run by designated hitter Scott Holzwasser — through the first seven innings.
Evan Edwards tripled in three runs in a four-run fourth inning for the Wolfpack, and Bailey added a three-run shot in the fifth.
“It’s always fun playing in this type of atmosphere with all of the fans," said Bailey, who set an N.C. State freshman record for home runs with 13.
A torrential rain started to pour in the bottom of the ninth with Brown needing three outs for his second complete game of the season.
The Huskies got one more home run, from Jeff Costello, but Brown was able to get through the rain in a scene reminiscent of the 2016 regional loss to Coastal Carolina on the same field.
The Wolfpack scratched through the losers’ bracket to get to an elimination game with the Chanticleers two years ago. It took the first step on Saturday, but there’s still a long way to go.