The NC State baseball team mustered a 9-5 win over the Clemson Tigers at home on Sunday, April 4. The two squads traded many punches in the batter’s box, but it was the Pack that got the last jab in with a four-run eighth inning to seal the deal.
The offense-heavy affair got off to a quick start in the first inning, as the Tigers (14-11, 8-7 ACC) stranded two baserunners in the top half of the frame, and the Wolfpack (10-11, 5-10 ACC) eked out the game’s first run in the bottom half. With runners at the corners and one away, junior left fielder Jonny Butler (0-5, RBI) hit a fielder’s choice to second base, beating out the double play to allow sophomore center fielder Tyler McDonough (2-5, RBI, 2 R) to score from third.
After freshman shortstop Jose Torres (1-3, BB, RBI) flew out to right to end the first inning, Clemson answered quickly to take the lead in the top of the second. The Tigers put runners on first and second for second baseman Elijah Henderson to slap a one-out RBI single to left field to tie the game. Henderson advanced second base on the throw home, and would score as well when Clemson left fielder Kier Meredith followed up with another single to score two more runs for the Tigers.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Matt Willadsen (6.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 6 K) surrendered another run in the next inning as Clemson extended its lead to 4-1. Designated hitter Alex Urban took the 1-2 pitch from Willadsen deep to center field for a solo homer, but this would be Willadsen’s last earned run of the contest as he hit a groove going forward.
“Willadsen has been unbelievable for us this year,” said head coach Elliott Avent. “Willadsen was a huge contributor to the bullpen, we had him as a huge guy out of the bullpen. When we had some injuries and things, lost some guys to quarantine and what have you, taking him and [junior right-handed pitcher Reid Johnston] out of that was a tough, tough decision but they have both been outstanding. Willy has been unbelievable for us.”
Willadsen got some help from his offense in the next couple of innings, as McDonough hit an RBI double to right to diminish the lead to 4-2. McDonough reached home himself on an RBI single from Torres to bring the Pack within one run by the end of the third inning.
“When Urban hit the home run to make it 4-1, and the way the last two games went, it would be very easy for this club to say ‘here we go again,’” Avent said. “Bigger than the eighth inning, I thought, was when we made it 4-3...and tied it up 4-4 and kept fighting. I thought that was the bigger thing.”
Willadsen finally started to settle in in the fourth, retiring three Tigers in order. This prompted the Wolfpack offense to tie the game at four runs apiece in the bottom of the frame. With runners in scoring position and nobody out, junior outfielder Terrell Tatum (1-2 ,3 RBI, SB) hit a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to left to drive junior right fielder Devonte Brown (1-4, 2 R) home for the tying run. NC State failed to take the lead however, as a line out and ground out ended the inning with sophomore third baseman Vojtech Mensik (3-3, BB, R) stranded on third.
The Tigers also left a runner in scoring position to end the top of the fifth, but the inning was highlighted by a contested call to end the bottom of the frame. Torres hit a two-out grounder to short that Clemson shortstop James Parker delivered wide of the first baseman, giving Torres an opportunity to advance to second base. Despite a quick reaction to hightail it to the bag, Torres was called out on a bang-bang play. Avent quickly challenged the call to try and keep the inning alive, but the ruling on the field stood to end the inning.
The Wolfpack finally took back the lead in the bottom of the sixth. After another solid inning from Willadsen, junior first baseman Austin Murr (2-4, HR, RBI) jacked a solo dinger to lead off the bottom of the frame.
The Pack was unable to turn Murr’s homer into more offense as Brown flew out and Tatum grounded into a double play after a Mensik single to end the inning. The Tigers missed opportunities of their own in the top of the seventh, leaving the bases full. With two out and a runner on third, Avent made a call to the bullpen and brought junior left-handed pitcher Evan Justice (2.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) into the game. Justice immediately backed himself into a corner by walking his first two batters, but escaped that jam just as quickly with a strikeout to end the frame.
An uneventful bottom of the seventh contrasted with a flurry of offense in both halves of the eighth. With the bases loaded and one out, a fielder’s choice to first base caught a Tiger baserunner in a rundown between second and third and allowed a run to score from third base to tie the game at five before the third out was made.
NC State also found itself in a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the bottom half of the eighth, but the Pack squeezed much more out of its opportunity than the Tigers. Tatum knocked a two-RBI single into shallow left to give NC State a multi-run lead, and a double steal thereafter set up two more Wolfpack runs to score while McDonough reached second base on an error.
“As I saw other guys hit, it seemed like he was trying to give us all sliders,” Tatum said. “I was looking for a slider when I got to two strikes.”
The Pack carried a four-run lead into the ninth, giving Justice some leeway to take care of business. Justice did just that with a 1-2-3 frame to close out the ballgame in a 9-5 NC State victory. Despite losing the series, State has some lessons to take away from the series.
“This game was really important to all of us as a whole, collective group,” Tatum said. “We really needed this win today, especially after the past two days where we felt like we were one pitch away from changing this whole series around. Making sure that we were able to respond and come back today was a big thing for all of us.”
The Wolfpack will finish out its homestand on Tuesday, April 6 against the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The game will be available on ACC Network Extra at 6 p.m.