Luke DeCock

Weather turns Wolfpack regional into theater of absurd

Fans are directed towards the exits after N.C. State's game against Coastal Carolina is postponed because of weather in the ninth inning in the Raleigh Regional of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, June 4, 2016.
Fans are directed towards the exits after N.C. State's game against Coastal Carolina is postponed because of weather in the ninth inning in the Raleigh Regional of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship at Doak Field in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, June 4, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

They might as well rename Doak Field the Theater of the Absurd.

On the same day, technically, that N.C. State played baseball until 1:52 a.m., the Wolfpack once again stretched one day into another. Friday's NCAA tournament win over Navy was interrupted by a three-hour, eight-minute rain delay. Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina was going to get off to a late start anyway after the afternoon game went 13 innings, but a thunderburst delayed things further. So another midnight came and went with the Wolfpack on the field.

The first pitch didn't come until 9:26 p.m. Saturday, the last not until Sunday after more rain arrived at 12:31 a.m. and unlike a night earlier, no one wanted to wait around.

Play will resume precisely 12 hours later Sunday, but because the NCAA prohibits teams from playing parts of three games in one day, only the elimination game against Navy will be played Sunday, 55 minutes after the conclusion of State-Coastal. The winner of the postponed game will get to go home (or to the hotel, more likely) and wait until Monday.

And the Sunday forecast? Rain, rain and more rain. Also rain. These games are on ESPN3, but they may end up on the Weather Channel before it's over at some point, probably Tuesday -- since Game 6 is definitely Monday at the earliest and it may not be possible to play a potential Game 7 that day as well.

What's clear at this point, beyond the inherent weather-related difficulties of playing baseball in North Carolina in June – witness last week's eight-hour debacle at the ACC title game in Durham – is that the Wolfpack is the second-best team in the regional it's hosting. Which isn’t to say N.C. State didn’t deserve to host, only that Coastal Carolina wasn’t far behind and has played better through three games and 22 outs this weekend. Small margins, and the Wolfpack still has a chance to flip that when the game resumes.

So that doesn't mean N.C. State can't or won't win the regional, or can't or won't come back to win this game, only that second-seeded Coastal Carolina produced a dominating performance with control of the regional there for the taking Saturday into Sunday and the Wolfpack had yet to produce anything close to an answer.

N.C. State hung 13 on Coastal in the season's opening week, and the Wolfpack has come a long way since then, but so have the Chanticleers.

The bats that pounded a Patriot League bullpen Friday night and Saturday morning could do nothing for eight innings against the Chanticleers' 1-2 punch of starter Alex Cunningham and reliever Mike Morrison, and while the Wolfpack continued to play some impressive defense – two more double plays and another pickoff -- it takes a little offense, too.

None was forthcoming. Preston Palmeiro was stranded after a two-out triple in the first and the Wolfpack had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth but a popup and strikeout followed. Some of the damage was self-inflicted: After a leadoff double by Joe Dunand in the sixth with N.C. State down 1-0, Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent had Brock Deatherage – a .327 hitter – sacrifice him to third where Dunand was promptly stranded.

College baseball's bunting fetish strikes again. The bunt in that situation increases the odds of scoring a run by 3 percent but lowers the overall run probability, essentially trading a significant reduction in the chances for a big inning for a marginal increase in the chances of scoring a single run. As it turned out, playing small ball in the sixth was self-defeating, because Coastal scored two more in the eighth to make it a 3-0 game. Why hold back the power throughout N.C. State's lineup?

Now the loser, likely the Wolfpack at this point, will have to play catch-up starting Sunday afternoon against not only Coastal but Navy and the weather, while the winner can relax until Monday. Maybe even Tuesday, if Sunday gets washed out.

N.C. State is out of starting pitchers after using Brian Brown and Cory Wilder in the first two games, although Ryan Williamson may try to throw through the forearm/triceps tightness that kept him out of the ACC tournament. But the Wolfpack is going to need not only a third starter but maybe a fourth and a fifth to win this regional. Meanwhile, Coastal is three outs away from having a bunch of fresh arms ready and waiting.

The rain may be the least of N.C. State's problems at this point.

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

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