The door was open for N.C. State to win its first ACC title in 27 years. Georgia Tech slammed it right in the Wolfpack’s face.
Michael Guldberg’s three-run home run keyed a 9-2 Yellow Jackets’ win on Friday night in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
With top-seed Louisville out and annual power Florida State safely back in Tallahassee, the third-seeded Wolfpack (42-17) had a real chance to end its conference title drought which goes back to 1992.
But a thrilling pool-play win over nemesis Wake Forest is all N.C. State will have to show for the week in Durham. Georgia Tech (41-16) will face North Carolina (41-17) in the championship game on Sunday (noon, ESPN2) at the DBAP.
“We didn’t do our job tonight and we paid for it,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said.
The gigantic Jackets, who won the Coastal Division, mashed 11 hits and looked like they would have fit right in the old American League West in the 1990s. They got a home run from one expected source in the second inning. First baseman Tristin English hit his 17th of the season, to the opposite field, for a 1-0 lead.
An RBI triple from catcher Patrick Bailey tied the game at 1 in the third for the Wolfpack. Then Guldberg provided the unexpected power for the Jackets in the fifth.
The 6-foot, 168-pound sophomore pulled a three-run shot over the famous Bull in left field. Guldberg didn’t have a home run this season before Saturday. He did hit two last season. Notably, all three in his career have been of the three-run variety.
“The ball was flying tonight,” Avent said. “It was absolutely flying.”
It was for Georgia Tech. The massive Baron Radcliff (6-4, 228 pounds) added a two-run double in a five-run eighth inning for the Jackets.
N.C. State’s bats were quiet for the second straight night. After the dramatic 6-5 comeback win over Wake Forest on Thursday, N.C. State had one hit and was shutout by FSU on Friday.
First baseman Evan Edwards had a double in the eighth but the Wolfpack’s three best hitters struggled against Georgia Tech’s pitchers. Reliever Jonathan Hughes (8-2) was particularly effective, allowing only two hits and one run over five innings. Edwards, Bailey and shortstop Will Wilson were a combined 3 for 14.
“We hung in there and tried but they pitched better than we hit,” Avent said.
N.C. State’s lineup is top-heavy and not built to manufacture runs from the bottom of the order. That was evident when light-hitting rightfielder Lawson McArthur struck out looking with two runners on to end the eighth inning. It was still a 4-1 game at that point and then the Jackets racked up five runs in the bottom of the inning.
So it’s Georgia Tech and UNC on Sunday for the title while N.C. State will await its NCAA tournament fate. N.C. State’s conference championship drought in football, basketball and baseball — the only Power 5 team without one in the 2000s — continues for another year.
After losing the final two games here in Durham by a combined score of 20-3, Avent said his team needs to find a way to recoup before the NCAA tournament.
“If we don’t play the game better than we played tonight, and doing the little things — big things, we’re fine — the little things if we don’t get better in that, you’re not going to advance in a regional,” Avent said.