While NC State baseball used a miracle comeback against Wake Forest during pool play to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinal for the first time since 2015, the Wolfpack could not break a conference title drought that stretches back to 1992, bowing out of this year’s tournament with a 9-2 loss to Georgia Tech at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Saturday.
While the Wolfpack will be at an NCAA Regional, there’s a lot to clean up from a shoddy performance in Durham that saw the team’s normally prolific offense nowhere to be found, particularly with runners on base. Here are some key takeaways from NC State’s performance in this year’s ACC tournament.
Miracle Finish: Going into the ninth inning of Thursday night’s game against Wake Forest that was for a trip to the semifinal, it did not look like the Wolfpack would even advance past pool play this year as the team trailed 5-2. That changed with a wild final-inning rally.
After junior shortstop Will Wilson led off the top of the ninth with a triple, sophomore catcher Patrick Bailey and freshman center fielder Tyler McDonough walked to load the bases with one out. Junior designated hitter Brad Debo then brought home two with a single to make it a one-run game.
Needing a pinch runner to replace Debo on the base paths, head coach Elliott Avent faced a conundrum, basically out of bench players. He asked for the fastest pitcher he likely wouldn’t use in the game and put sophomore David Harrison on the bag.
Harrison swiped second standing to take away the double play with freshman utility player Luca Tresh batting. Tresh would strike out for the second of the Wolfpack’s final three outs, but Harrison’s steal still proved pivotal.
Sophomore outfielder Terrell Tatum beat out a throw to first for an infield single, and Harrison caught the Demon Deacons napping and avoided a throw to the plate for the winning run on a play that was overturned after a lengthy review.
On a night when it seemed nothing was going right, the Wolfpack found a way and made it to the tournament’s final four for the first time in four seasons.
Bats go cold: Unfortunately for NC State, that ninth-inning rally was really the only bright spot in an anemic weekend for the offense, as the Wolfpack really did not have another good inning at the plate across that game, the elimination loss to the Yellow Jackets, and an effectively meaningless 11-0 loss to Florida State Friday night.
The Wolfpack scored just eight total runs on 17 hits in the three games. A big part of that was the inability to cash in on scoring opportunities; the Wolfpack stranded 29 runners during the tournament and went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position in the Georgia Tech loss.
The Pack could have used more from its power trio of Wilson, Bailey and senior first baseman Evan Edwards. In the team’s first three postseason games, the Wolfpack’s top run producers all season combined to go 6 for 32 at the plate, with two RBIs and four runs scored. NC State will need more from its best players in the NCAA Tournament.
While the Pack’s season will continue with an NCAA regional this week, the whole team will need to take better at-bats in key moments if it wants to advance to a Super Regional for the first time since 2013.
“That's in the committee's hands right now, and I think Indianapolis,” Avent said. "We should be hosting, and I'm sure we are, but if we don't play any better than we played tonight — in doing the little things, big things we're fine — if we don't get better than that, you're not going to advance in a regional. I don't care if you play in Raleigh or Las Vegas, Nevada. So we've got to figure out how to take advantage of every opportunity. That's what you do in the postseason, and right now, we're not doing it.”
Swiney dominant: NC State’s other bright spot also came in the Wake Forest game, in a stellar long relief appearance from junior lefty Nick Swiney. After a bit of a rough start for sophomore Reid Johnston, Swiney came in and threw 3.2 innings of one-run ball, not allowing a hit while striking out eight and walking four.
One of NC State’s big problems in past regionals has been running out of pitching; continuing to get quality long relief outings from pitchers like Swiney could be the difference between stalling out early and advancing to the next round.