NC State baseball fails to clinch World Series ticket, set for winner-take-all Game 3 against Georgia (2024)

ATHENS, GA., — NC State baseball head coach Elliott Avent summed it up perfectly.

“Baseball doesn’t care and it doesn’t work like that,” Avent said after being asked why Game 1’s performance didn’t carry over to Game 2.

Momentum doesn’t exist in baseball from game to game. NC State knows that, so there wasn’t much celebration yesterday when the Wolfpack beat Georgia 18-1 in Game 1 of the Athens Super Regional.

Three years ago, NC State lost 21-2 to Arkansas in the first game of the Fayetteville Super Regional. After getting blasted in Game 1, the Wolfpack went on to win the next two games 6-5 and 3-2 to advance to the College World Series.

While a hitter can go on a hot streak and carry that over for multiple games, that doesn’t happen with an entire team. Seven Wolfpack players had multiple hits yesterday, but today, only two had two or more hits.

“Here’s the great thing about our game — nothing carries over to tomorrow,” said Georgia head coach Wes Johnson after his team’s 18-1 Game 1 loss. “The scoreboard goes back to 0-0.”

But why does a performance like yesterday not carry over to the next?

In baseball, the most important position changes the next day. There is a different pitcher on the mound with completely different pitch types and tendencies than the guy who took the mound the day before.

In Game 1, NC State figured out how to beat Georgia starting pitcher Kolten Smith quickly and jumped all over him in the second inning. None of that mattered the next day as the Pack had no answers for Bulldogs starter Leighton Finley in Game 2, ultimately leading to its 11-2 loss in Game 2 of the Athens Super Regional.

And unlike Smith, Finley wasn’t attacking the zone. After he was taken out, he had only thrown 65 of his 107 pitches for strikes. NC State had to be more patient in its approach, waiting for Finley to make a mistake or throw the ball in the zone, and when it did make contact, not much came of it.

Through the 6.2 innings Finley pitched, the Wolfpack only struck one extra-base hit after hitting 10 the day prior. Finley’s arsenal and different approach to throwing strikes didn’t allow NC State to carry any of the momentum it had from Saturday.

Graduate first baseman Garrett Pennington said Finley attacked the edges of the zone really well, making it hard for the batters to make solid contact on him.

“He really didn’t make a mistake,” Pennington said. “When pitchers don’t make mistakes and when they pitch to their plan, things end up going pretty well.”

The one opportunity the Wolfpack had to create momentum within the game came in the second inning with runners on first and second with no outs. Freshman designated hitter Alex Sosa hit a flyball to shallow center field and junior catcher Jacob Cozart surprisingly tagged up from second in an attempt to take third.

Cozart was easily thrown out and his head-scratching decision took NC State from two runners on base with one out to just a runner on first with two outs. It was the one chance the Pack had to “create chaos” as Cozart said yesterday, but instead, nothing came of it.

As for Georgia, it could have let Game 1’s loss creep into doubt. But the Bulldogs also understood the next game would be completely different from the next. After being held to just one run and no home runs in the first game, the mostly right-handed lineup went after NC State’s sophom*ore left-handed starting pitcher Dominic Fritton.

In the first inning, third baseman Charlie Condon smacked a single that was 102.9 mph off his bat, and immediately after, second baseman Slate Alford crushed a homer that went well over the left field wall. Just like that, Georgia put the previous game behind it as it had already scored more runs and hit more home runs than it did Saturday.

Georgia’s first inning quickly allowed it to put the 18-1 loss behind it. The Bulldogs added six more runs across the third and fourth innings to get out to a big lead like the Wolfpack did in the first matchup.

It was crucial the Bulldogs scored early because real doubt could have entered their minds if they had taken a while to score for the second-straight game. Eight runs through the first four innings wiped the Bulldogs’ memory of yesterday and allowed Finley to throw comfortably on the mound, much like Sam Highfill did for the Pack in Game 1.

“That’s why your message all year has to be it’s just a game of baseball,” Johnson said. “Emotions can take you in the wrong way a lot of times and if we keep our emotions in check and everyday you go to play this game you understand it’s just that game that day.”

In a winner-take-all Game 3 tomorrow, NC State will most likely have redshirt senior Logan Whitaker on the mound with all three of its high-leverage relievers not having thrown in the series yet. Freshmen pitchers Cooper Consiglio and Jacob Dudan, along with sophom*ore Derrick Smith, will all be available having not thrown in over a week.

Game 3 will be on Monday, June 10 with a time for first pitch yet to be announced.

Summary: The Wolfpack failed to close its series against Georgia, falling 11-2, forcing a critical winner-take-all Game 3.

NC State baseball fails to clinch World Series ticket, set for winner-take-all Game 3 against Georgia (2024)
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