If you had known NC State baseball would limit Virginia to two runs and record twice as many hits, you’d probably say the Pack would have had a pretty good chance at winning.
That was indeed the case, but NC State just couldn’t do enough to win, falling to the Cavaliers 2-1 in the series opener on Thursday night in Raleigh.
The No. 23 Wolfpack (14-4, 1-3 ACC) collectively held the No. 14 Cavaliers (15-1, 2-1 ACC) in check, limiting them to just four hits and a meager two runs, both of which came in the third inning. However, although the Pack recorded eight hits, the team couldn’t muster any more than a single run despite a number of opportunities.
“I think the energy was good, but maybe too good,” said head coach Elliott Avent. “I think we were a little bit too hyped up… I think just because we were so emotional, wanting to do so good. It’s good to be emotional, good to want to win, but you’ve got to dial it back and be level-headed.”
Virginia drew first blood in the third frame when NC State’s starting pitcher, redshirt junior right-handed Logan Whitaker, and the rest of the Wolfpack quickly found themselves in a bases-loaded jam with no outs after an error from sophomore catcher Jacob Cozart behind the dish. Virginia didn’t think twice about capitalizing, scoring two unearned runs on the following plays — both of which ultimately decided the game.
However, it wasn’t long after that Cozart got his redemption. In the bottom of the fourth, the sophomore tanked a no-doubt solo shot off the scoreboard that dug into Virginia’s lead and gave the crowd at the Doak a jolt of energy.
OFF THE SCOREBOARD 💥#Pack9 | 📺: ACCN pic.twitter.com/Q5xmqKaDl0— #Pack9 ⚾️ (@NCStateBaseball) March 17, 2023
“I was just trying to do whatever I could for my team because I made a couple of mental mistakes that kind of costed us two runs early," Cozart said. “I was trying to do everything in my power to help the team get back in the game and try to get them going.”
While it looked like Cozart’s blast would give the Wolfpack the spark it needed, Virginia’s pitching staff shut down any hopes NC State might have had. Ultimately, the solo homer was all the red-and-white could muster in the low-scoring affair due to the Cavaliers’ impressive defensive performance — one that was powered by its bullpen.
“[Virginia’s pitchers] were really, really good today,” Cozart said. “They located a lot of really well mixed-up pitches to get us off balance. But we're gonna make an adjustment, we'll have a better approach tomorrow and we'll get back on it.”
While Virginia’s pitchers were on point, you can’t say that the Pack didn’t have chances to put more than one run on the board. A golden opportunity came in the second inning when sophomore shortstop Payton Green attempted to score from second base on a wild pitch, but he was cut down just inches away from the plate.
Before that, Cozart was caught stealing third — had it not been for that, he would have likely scored on the wild pitch, and the Pack would have had another run. In total, five NC State runners were on base in scoring position throughout the night, but none came through.
The Pack’s last chance came in the ninth inning when junior left fielder Carter Trice hit a two-out double, but on the next at-bat, Virginia pitcher Jake Berry — who stands at a towering 6-feet-10-inches tall — struck out graduate center fielder Parker Nolan to put the game away.
“I thought they were very good; everybody came in and did a good job,” Avent said of Virginia's pitchers. “That’s a good ballclub; there’s a reason why they were the last undefeated team in the country. There’s a reason why they came down and won two out of three on the road last week [at UNC]. They’re just a very good baseball team.”
On the other end, the loss shouldn’t overshadow the outstanding play of NC State’s pitching staff, which held Virginia to its second-lowest run total of the season. In 5.1 innings pitched, Whitaker struck out five and allowed both of Virginia’s runs, although both were unearned. Junior right-hander Sam Highfill came on in relief in the sixth, keeping the Cavaliers off the board by recording three strikeouts and retiring the last seven batters he faced.
“Just executing pitches, really that's what it comes down to,” Highfill said. “They were swinging early against me, so I was trying to fill the strike zone and let my defense work.”
Despite the result, NC State has a chance to get right back to it against the Cavaliers in the second game of the series on Friday, March 17. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.
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