The NC State baseball team clinched its road series against the No. 16 Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, May 15 with a 9-7 win. The Wolfpack gave the Panthers a crash course in heads-up baserunning, swiping four bags over the course of the game.
The Pack (25-14, 16-13 ACC) set the tone early by taking the lead with some aggressive baserunning. After stealing second base with one out in the top of the first, sophomore center fielder Tyler McDonough (1-5, 2B, 2 SB) caught Pitt (22-15, 16-13 ACC) sleeping, barreling around third to score on a dropped third strike.
The Panthers responded quickly though, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning to make it 2-1 Pitt. This prompted the Pack to trade blows with the Panthers for the next few innings. The two squads combined for nine runs over the first four innings and Pitt took a 5-4 lead.
This offensive barrage saw seven hitters in the Wolfpack lineup put up a hit in the first four innings, including a solo homer to left center by junior designated hitter Terrell Tatum (3-4, HR, RBI) to lead off the top of the fourth and put the Pack ahead 4-3. All nine of NC State’s starting batters would record at least one hit by the end of the contest.
The two who were not among those initial seven, junior right fielder Devonte Brown (1-5, RBI) and sophomore third baseman Vojtech Mensik (2-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), played pivotal roles of their own in the latter stages of the game.
Brown’s time to shine came in the top of the sixth, when he drove home Mensik with a single to left to tie the game at 5-5. Mensik himself notched his first hit of the contest with a double down the left field line to lead off the inning.
Pitt kept up with the Wolfpack, however, staying within one run for most of the ballgame. NC State freshman starting pitcher Sam Highfill (4.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 4 K) could not keep the Panthers at bay, and thus was relieved by sophomore right-handed pitcher Andrew Tillery (2.0 IP, H, 2 K) to start the fifth inning.
Tillery pitched two shutout innings before handing the ball over to redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Dalton Feeney (2.0 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB). By this time, the Pack held a slim 6-5 lead thanks to a solo shot by junior left fielder Jonny Butler (3-5, 2B, HR, 2 RBI) in the top of the seventh.
Feeney held the Panthers in check in the seventh and eighth while the Wolfpack pulled away to a four-run lead in the top of the ninth. Butler doubled to start the frame, but a quick two outs left him in jeopardy of getting stranded. This possibility was avoided, however, as Butler advanced to third on a balk before Tatum was hit by a pitch, putting runners at the corners for NC State.
What followed was another display of electric baserunning, as head coach Elliott Avent elected to call a double steal. Pittsburgh reliever Corey Sawyer was caught off guard and threw the ball wide of his catcher, allowing Butler to score and Tatum to advance to third on the error. The Pack’s new 7-5 lead was quickly extended to 9-5 on a two-run home run by Mensik.
The Panthers were eventually able to stop the bleeding at 9-5, and nearly pulled off a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. After Feeney walked the first two batters of the frame, junior left-hander Evan Justice (1.0 IP, 0 ER, H, BB, K) took over his duties on the mound.
Justice did not fare much better initially, surrendering another walk to load the bases with no one out followed by a single to center that scored one. A 6-4-3 double play allowed another Pitt baserunner to score, making it 9-7, but Justice made sure to end the rally there with a strikeout to seal the Wolfpack victory, clinching the series for his team.
The Pack will go for a sweep of the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sunday, May 16 in Pittsburgh. The game will be aired at 1 p.m. on ACC Network Extra.