CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Ever since NC State baseball went up 5-0 in the first inning of game one against North Carolina, it all went downhill for the Wolfpack.
Other than that explosive first inning, NC State was outscored 30-8 over the weekend, including a 12-2 loss in the series finale as the Tar Heels completed the sweep and beat the Wolfpack for the seventh time in the last eight contests between the two schools.
It went from bad to ugly for the Wolfpack (31-18, 10-16 ACC), who was no match for the Tar Heels (33-17, 14-11 ACC) in the culmination of a demoralizing series.
“That Thursday night loss — out of all the losses I’ve had in 40 years plus of coaching, probably the worst regular season loss I’ve had,” said head coach Elliott Avent. “We had the game won several times, just stupid stuff happened that got them back in the game, and they pulled it out. Gotta give them credit, but that was a tough loss, and we just didn’t bounce back from that.”
Similar to Friday’s game two, NC State could hardly get anything going against UNC’s stout pitching and had no answer for the red-hot Tar Heel bats.
The signs were there as early as the first inning that it would be another long day for the Pack when the Heels jumped out to a 3-0 lead, punishing junior right-hander Sam Highfill with five hits.
Highfill didn’t last long, only making it through one more complete inning before being pulled in the bottom of the third. The Heels scored one run in the second, and even though it occurred after he was taken out, Highfill was credited with another run allowed in the third, giving him a final statline of eight hits and five runs allowed, four of which were earned in 2.1 innings pitched.
UNC continued to pour it on in the third and fourth, scoring three runs in each inning to take a commanding 10-0 lead through four. The latter half of those runs were credited to sophomore right-hander Carson Kelly, who finished with five hits, two earned runs and two strikeouts in just 1.1 innings.
NC State’s only two runs of the day came on solo shots in back-to-back innings, the first by junior right fielder Noah Soles in the sixth and the second by freshman first baseman Eli Serrano in the seventh. The Pack was once again befuddled by UNC’s strong starting pitching, coming from Jake Knapp, who went six innings and allowed just five hits and two runs.
Junior right-hander Justin Lawson and redshirt senior right-hander Baker Nelson were each credited with one run apiece in the fifth and seventh, respectively, and junior left-hander John Miralia was the only other member of the Wolfpack bullpen to pitch, throwing one inning. No NC State pitcher made it more than 2.1 innings.
The Heels finished with a drastic advantage in hits, tallying a whopping 18 compared to NC State’s six. That serves as a microcosm of the weekend comparison as UNC won the hitting battle by a breathtaking margin of 44-21 through three games.
Now, NC State has to regroup for its final regular season series against Pitt to ensure that it will play in the ACC Tournament the following week in Durham. Suffice to say, the Pack’s postseason chances are contingent upon what happens over the next two weeks.
“This team has to play well next weekend, win two out of three to get into the ACC Tournament, get to the championship game, maybe win it, and our RPI is so good we’re probably still going to go [to the NCAA Tournament], but we’ve got to play,” Avent said. “We’ve got to play good, and we didn’t play good yesterday or today.”
The Pack’s series against Pitt begins Thursday, May 18 at 6 p.m. and runs through Saturday, May 20 in the team’s final home series of the season at Doak Field.
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