N.C. State was close, and TCU was so far behind.
Seven runs behind, to be exact, and only six outs to catch up before the Wolfpack would clinch a berth in the NCAA Super Regionals, the final hurdle before the College World Series.
Then, in a blur, there they sat. Logan Ratledge and Bubby Riley and Jake Fincher and Jake Armstrong. The N.C. State seniors, slumped in folding chairs with watered eyes and their hats pulled low.
N.C. State's season slipped away Monday night, as the hometown Horned Frogs erased a 7-run deficit to beat the Wolfpack 9-8 in 10 innings and win the NCAA Fort Worth Regional at Lupton Stadium.
N.C. State (36-23) led 8-1 entering the eighth inning, when TCU (47-12) used two RBI singles, a walk, a balk and a passed ball to get within one of the lead.
Then, in the ninth, the Frogs took advantage of another N.C. State mistake when Derek Odell scored on a passed ball that should've been a strikeout. Keaton Jones had taken the 3-2 pitch, but it deflected off Andrew Knizner's glove, allowing Odell to score easily.
In the 10th, after a second straight three-and-out at-bat by N.C. State, Elliott Barzilli poked an RBI single to right field, and it was over. The Frogs mobbed Barzilli and celebrated their fifth Super Regional berth since 2009.
N.C. State, which missed the postseason last year after reaching the College World Series in 2013, could only sulk.
"You never have the game in hand in this game, but we had it in check," Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said, "and things just kind of unraveled a little bit. This game will give you a lot of enjoyment and a lot of disappointment, too."
N.C. State jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind RBI hits from Ratledge and Chance Shepard and a home run from Riley. TCU scored one run in the fourth, but reliever Will Gilbert entered and struck out Garrett Crain with runners on second and third.
Gilbert continued to hold TCU in check, working unscathed through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. But with his pitch count at 37 through 2 1/3 innings, Avent opted to go to his rested bullpen in the eighth.
"[Gilbert] was tired," Avent said. "He gave us all he had. His velocity had gone down from about 89 to 84 and 85. He could've gave us more, but the thing about it is that we had so much more left [in the bullpen]. It's unfortunate some things happened there in the last few innings."
Two key calls during N.C. State's collapse were a pair of balks, one that forced a runner home in the eighth and another that sent Odell to third before he scored the tying run. The second one, in particular, confused Avent.
"I go out there, and the third base coach is just laughing like, 'Wow, we just got lucky there,' and the ump couldn't really give me an explanation," Avent said. "He said he saw a flinch. You know, with 5,000 people screaming, there was probably a lot of flinches. For him to call that in that situation -- I'll watch it over, but he better flinch more than I thought he had. If he didn't flinch, that would be one of the worst calls I've ever seen."
Super Regional matchups
Sites to be determined; numbers reflect national seed. Winners of the best-of-3 super regionals advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., starting June 13:
▪ Virginia vs. Maryland or 1. UCLA
▪ Louisiana-Lafayette vs. 2. LSU
▪ Cal-State Fullerton vs. 3. Louisville
▪ Florida State vs. 4. Florida
▪ VCU vs. 5. Miami
▪ Vanderbilt vs. 6. Illinois
▪ Texas A&M vs. 7. TCU
▪ Arkansas vs. 8. Missouri State