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Emotional Wolfpack evens series with UNC

NC State’s Elliott Avent remembers Bruce Winkworth

NC State coach Elliott Avent remembers longtime Wolfpack sports information director for baseball Bruce Winkworth, who passed away Friday, May 17, 2019, after a prolonged battle with cancer,
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NC State coach Elliott Avent remembers longtime Wolfpack sports information director for baseball Bruce Winkworth, who passed away Friday, May 17, 2019, after a prolonged battle with cancer,

N.C. State played like a team that had a little extra help at North Carolina on Friday.

Maybe the Wolfpack did.

Five hours before N.C. State’s 11-2 road win over the Tar Heels, longtime N.C. State sports information director for baseball Bruce Winkworth passed away.

Winkworth, who was 67 and had been in a prolonged battle with cancer, dedicated his life to N.C. State athletics but possessed encyclopedic knowledge about bluegrass music and the Cleveland Indians. He was a fixture with the Wolfpack baseball program. He spent 15 years with N.C. State coach Elliott Avent in an official capacity and the rest of the time as an unofficial general manager.

“He’s one of the smartest baseball people I ever met in my life,” Avent said. “He helped me get as many wins as anyone.”

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Longtime NC State sports information director for baseball Bruce Winkworth throws out a ceremonial first pitch before a Wolfpack game in 2012. Winkworth, 67, passed away on Friday afternoon. Photo courtesy of NC State athletics

UNC, and the crowd of 3,829 at Boshamer Stadium, observed a moment of silence for Winkworth before the game. Then the Wolfpack (40-15, 17-12 ACC) proceeded put three runs on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning and starter Reid Johnston needed only four pitches to get out of the bottom half of the inning.

The tone was set in the first inning with consecutive singles by leftfielder Jonny Butler, who went 4 for 6, and Will Wilson to start the game.

Wilson was one of three players who recently visited Winkworth in hospice care.

“It’s just a tough thing to go through,” Wilson said. “He has been around with us for a long time. Obviously, some of you guys have worked with him. He’s a great guy.”

Wilson finished 4 for 4 with a home run, two doubles and three runs scored. He had plenty of help.

A single by centerfielder Tyler McDonough (2-4, 3 RBIs), and then some help from UNC’s shaky defense, plated a pair of runs, the second unearned. Designated hitter Brad Debo then followed with the fourth single of the inning for another unearned run.

Johnston was nearly as efficient in the second inning with five pitches. Eventually, the sophomore righty had to do more. He worked 5.1 innings for his sixth win of the season and to even the series between the rivals.

The Tar Heels (38-16, 17-12) rallied from a 3-2 deficit on Thursday, with a hitting clinic from freshman Aaron Sabato, for a 5-3 win but there was no comeback on Friday.

The loss means UNC can’t three-peat as Coastal Division champions. The Heels can still grab one of the top four seeds in the ACC tournament next week in Durham with a win in the series finale on Saturday.

Sabato, who hit for the cycle on Thursday, had two more hits on Friday but Carolina’s offense couldn’t keep up. Wilson doubled in a run, in the three-run fourth inning, for the Wolfpack.

The junior shortstop added a solo home run, his team-leading 16th on the season, in the fifth inning, and McDonough had a two-run shot in the sixth.

“It’s more than just a win, it’s the way we beat them,” Wilson said. “We came out ready to play and you put it to them and you keep putting it to them the whole game.”

For Avent, it was definitely more than just a win. It marked the 10th time in his 23 seasons at N.C. State with at least 40 wins. Most of those were with Winkworth by his side. Winkworth, with his deadpan wit, was the perfect foil for the hyperkinetic Avent. The two were close, even after Winkworth retired in 2012.

Avent had been regularly visiting Winkworth at hospice care multiple times each day in the past few weeks. Avent was with Winkworth on Thursday night after the game and then again on Friday morning.

“This morning I could tell it was going to be his last day,” Avent said. “I didn’t promise him a win tonight because my daddy always told me never to promise anything you can’t deliver but I told him we’d give it everything we had.”

N.C. State did deliver. And who knows? Maybe Winkworth did, too.

Joe Giglio covers N.C. State and has worked at The N&O since 1995. He has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005.

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