Facing a three-run, ninth-inning deficit and on the verge of elimination from the ACC Baseball Championship, the NC State baseball team came from behind to defeat Wake Forest at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Thursday night and advance to the ACC semifinals.
The Wolfpack (42-15) couldn’t get much going on offense for most of the night, but used a four-run ninth to take the lead while the Demon Deacons (31-26) committed two costly errors in the final frame to aid the Pack’s comeback.
“This is a game that works out sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “I’m proud of our club, they haven’t quit all year. They battle together and believe in each other.”
Junior designated hitter Brad Debo was the star offensively, going 2 for 4 with three RBIs, including a bases-loaded, two-RBI base hit in the ninth to put the Pack within one. On the mound, the Pack used seven different pitchers including a stellar performance from sophomore left-hander Nick Swiney, who tossed 3.2 innings of one-run ball while holding Wake hitless.
After the Pack squandered a bases loaded opportunity in the first frame, the Demon Deacons got one of their own. After fanning slugger Bobby Seymour to start the Wake second, sophomore right-hander Reid Johnston and his defense ran into a world of trouble.
Johnston got the start, but it didn’t last long as an error started the Wake Forest rally and a double and a walk followed to load the bases. A single by DJ Poteet brought in a run, and freshman catcher Patrick Bailey airmailed a pickoff attempt to third base to allow another run to come in.
Another base hit and sacrifice fly capped the disastrous inning for the Pack, as the Deacons took a commanding 4-0 lead in the second on three hits and two Wolfpack errors.
Meanwhile, Swiney kept the Demon Deacons’ offense quiet. After entering in the third inning for Johnston, he struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced.
Yet another bases-loaded chance for the Pack came in the seventh inning. Tasked with the job of driving in the Wolfpack’s first run of the game, freshman center fielder Tyler McDonough grounded into a double play, plating a run, but minimizing the NC State threat. Debo salvaged what was left of the rally, roping a double to the left-center-field wall to drive in another run and cut the lead to 4-2.
Wake Forest plated another run in the seventh to take a 5-2 lead, but NC State would make things interesting in the ninth.
With just three outs to erase a three-run lead, Wilson led off the inning with an unorthodox triple - a sky-high fly ball just out of the reach of a diving Michael Ludowig in shallow right field. A couple walks by Bailey and McDonough and a lineout by senior first baseman Evan Edwards set up a bases-loaded situation, NC State’s fourth of the game.
Up to this point, the Pack only had two runs to show for those chances, but those fortunes changed in its last ups. Debo came through again, lacing a two-RBI single to put the Pack within one and put runners on the corners.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Debo said. “The way these guys, all of us, just pull for each other and we’re all bought in and we all want to do the same thing and just, it was a little shaky in the beginning of the game, but we just didn’t quit.”
With his bench completely bereft of position players, Avent put in sophomore pitcher David Harrison to run for Debo at first, a move that would prove beneficial. Harrison advanced to second on a wild pitch during freshman Luca Tresh’s at-bat that ended in a strikeout.
With the game on the line, sophomore Terrell Tatum chopped a ball to second, narrowly beating out the throw to first. Harrison headed home, initially being called out but ruled safe upon review, giving the Wolfpack a 6-5 lead in the ninth. Harrison’s aggressive baserunning ended up paying off for the Pack, as the unusual decision from Avent and Director of Player Development Ben Sanderson proved to be the right one.
“We had nobody left on the bench,” Avent said. “When Debo got on I said ‘Ben, find the fastest pitcher you’ve got that you don’t think I’m going to use in this game.’ He came back with David Harrison and [junior Alec] Barger, who actually played outfield in junior college, and I thought Barger might get in this game so I went with Harrison. Good choice … life’s all about good choices.”
ACC Player of the Year Bobby Seymour had been held in check all night, but doubled to left field to start the bottom of the ninth. With no outs and a runner on second, redshirt freshman right-hander Cameron Cotter entered and closed the game, getting a ground ball out and a strikeout to seal the wild, come-from-behind win for the Wolfpack.
“I’ve come in in the ninth a few games now,” Cotter said. “I wouldn’t say comfortable in that position, because obviously there’s going to be some pressure there, but just coming in with a man on second I just wanted to pound the zone with fastballs, because that’s been our game plan against Wake Forest and I just wanted to do that again.”
NC State will face the winner of Friday’s game between Duke and Georgia Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the ACC Championship finals for the first time since 2015. The Pack will also square off against Florida State Friday at 7 p.m. in a matchup that ultimately won’t have any impact on the tournament.
For the Wolfpack, Thursday’s come-from-behind win over the Demon Deacons was the result of sticking with it in a mostly frustrating game.
“It means a lot to our guys just to keep playing,” Avent said. “We’re teaching more than baseball here and guys have to know if you keep grinding it might not work out today, it might not work out tomorrow, but it’s the only thing that you can do and if you keep doing it, it will give you something like this once in a while. This is something that we’ll never forget.”