N.C. State couldn’t have been in a better position than it was 15 days ago when it left Chapel Hill with a dominant series win over North Carolina.
The Wolfpack got into the postseason and everything changed. Nearly everything went wrong from that high point, it’s difficult to reconcile and would have been nearly impossible to predict back on May 18.
N.C. State’s season ended on Sunday with a 9-2 loss to East Carolina in the Greenville Regional. Instead of building on the consecutive wins over the Tar Heels to end the regular season, the Wolfpack (42-19) fell apart.
And cruelly, for N.C. State fans, Carolina has taken off on a rocket ship since with an ACC title and has the inside track for a return to the College World Series.
After winning its opening game in the ACC tournament in Durham last week, N.C. State lost four straight games to close out an otherwise eventful season.
ECU ace Jake Agnos made sure the Pirates (44-16) kept their season alive with eight strong innings for his 11th win of the season. The Pirates move through the losers’ bracket for an 8 p.m. matchup with either Campbell or Quinnipiac.
N.C. State heads back to Raleigh and can only wonder, “What if?”
“We had an unbelievable season, did some things that hadn’t been done at N.C. State in awhile, that we’re all very proud of,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “It’s just tough when it ends.”
It actually looked good at the start on Sunday. Catcher Patrick Bailey homered off of Agnos in the first inning and starter Jason Parker was sharp for the Wolfpack the first two innings.
With one out in the third, the wheels fell off when Avent decided to pull Parker to use a lefthander to match up against the lefties in the heart of ECU’s lineup.
Evan Justice came in and got ECU’s top hitter Alec Burleson to bounce to second base. Second baseman J.T. Jarrett and shortstop Will Wilson couldn’t turn a double play to get out of the inning. ECU scored a run on the fielder’s choice and then back-to-back singles by Jake Washer and Chandler Jenkins made it 3-1.
Justice came out and Michael Bienlien threw one pitch to Brady Lloyd, which Lloyd summarily ripped into right field for a double and two more runs. Lloyd eventually scored on a wild pitch. The line for the half-inning: six runs, five hits and four pitchers.
Avent said he went into the game with the plan in mind to use a lefty, Justice in particular, against ECU’s lefties the second time through the lineup.
“The (third) inning we felt like we had to go to a lefty against Burleson,” Avent said. “(Justice) came in and did his job but then it kind of went haywire.”
N.C. State never got back in the game. Agnos only got stronger and the Pirates picked their first NCAA tournament win over N.C. State in three tries.
It was an unusual season for N.C. State in the sense that not much was expected. Shortstop Will Wilson will be a high draft pick but there were a lot of questions after losing the bulk of the 2018 team, which was a regional host.
After a 19-0 start to this season, the Wolfpack shot up to the top five in all of the national polls and No. 1 in one — a first in program history.
After an ACC series win over Virginia on March 31, the Wolfpack was 27-2 but that was too good to be true. Injuries, most importantly one to Wilson, slowed them in April. They recovered to close out the regular season with series wins over Clemson and UNC.
But the 11-2 and 11-0 wins over UNC were the season’s peak. For the fifth straight year, the regional round ended in disappointment.