Luke DeCock

NC State rotation off to good start, but questions loom

ehyman@newsobserver.com

Brian Brown gave N.C. State four scoreless innings on Friday, which was enough to get the Wolfpack past Navy ace Luke Gillingham, even if rain put a three-hour gap between N.C. State home runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Wolfpack was well on its way to victory before lightning struck – a pair of two-run homers in the fifth gave N.C. State a five-run lead and chased Gillingham moments before the interruption, with another homer immediately after the break – but it took until the ripe hour of 1:36 a.m. Saturday to finish off a 13-8 win over Navy.

Now things start to get very interesting for N.C. State from a pitching perspective.

With two would-be starters injured – Joe O'Donnell has been shut down since March with a shoulder injury and Ryan Williamson lasted only four innings in his past two starts because of forearm and triceps tightness – the Wolfpack can still count on Cory Wilder in one of the remaining games of this regional.

That could be Saturday night against Coastal Carolina or a potential elimination or championship game on Sunday. Other than that, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent is going to have to get creative.

“I think most college teams change their rotation throughout the year,” Avent said. “Maybe Louisville would be an exception to that. We've kind of rotated things since I've been here a little bit, and definitely this year.”

Brown was an easy choice as the opening starter, and he did his job Friday night. Navy had chances – going 0-4 with runners in scoring position against him – but the Wolfpack turned three double plays and Brown helped his cause by picking a runner off first. N.C. State's five home runs, including a Chance Shepherd grand slam, made things even easier.

Wilder is the other obvious N.C. State starter. Beyond that? It's anyone's guess.

Williamson is injured but available, having been cleared by doctors to continue pitching. He was resonably effective in the win over North Carolina that wrapped up the regular season, but lacked his usual velocity and Avent pulled him after 55 pitches before shutting him down for the ACC tournament.

In the tournament, reliever Sean Adler made his only start of the season against Miami, going two innings. Karl Keglovits is a possibility this weekend, having started one game this season. There's also Johnny Piedmonte, who started the ACC championship game and regional championship last year – doing enough to win in the latter before the Wolfpack's late, stunning collapse – but has struggled to a 7.11 ERA and 0-3 record this season.

Piedmonte struck out the side to finish N.C. State's extra-innings win over Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, but hasn't started a game since April 19.

“He did throw awfully well the other night, closing that game out,” Avent said. “Obviously he's a possibility whether that happened or not because we all believe in Johnny Piedemonte. We know who he is and he rises to occasions. He's certainly in the mix.”

Given all that, the Wolfpack may actually be better positioned to get through a best-of-three super regional than a regional that could last four or even five games and run through Tuesday if the weather continues not to cooperate.

This much is clear: Win or lose, getting four shutout innings from Brown while tagging Gillingham for five runs cleared one of the bigger hurdles the Wolfpack faced this weekend. Coastal Carolina, which had as good a case as N.C. State to host a regional, still looms as an even bigger one. But navigating N.C. State's short-handed pitching staff through the rest of the regional may be the biggest hurdle left.

Luke DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, 919-829-8947, @LukeDeCock

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