State, UNCW strengthen baseball resumes, ECU continues to stumble

The Seahawks Casey Golden and Zarion Sharpe, along with Wake Forests Gavin Sheets all earned individual honors in weekend college baseball action while NC A&T clinched a spot in the upcoming MEAC tourney

Brian Westerholt—Four Seam Images
Junior first baseman Gavin Sheets leads Wake Forest into this weekend's NCAA tournament regional against West Virginia

NC State, East Carolina and UNC Wilmington are all in the same boat as the college baseball season winds down to its final two weeks. And they’re trying hard to keep it from sinking. Instead of playing to put themselves in a position to host NCAA regionals, the Wolfpack, Pirates and Seahawks are facing the prospect of having to win the respective conference tournaments just to get into the field. At 27-21 overall (11-13 ACC) State figures to have the best chance of padding its resume enough to sneak in with an at-large bid. Coach Elliott Avent’s team won the first two games of a nonconference weekend series against Delaware to extend its winning streak to seven games. But it missed a chance at helping itself even more by failing to hold onto a late lead in a 5-4 Sunday loss. Pitching was the key to the Wolfpack’s two victories, as new-found ace Johnny Piedmonte held the Blue Hens to just one run on four hits in 5⅔ innings of Friday’s 7-1 win. Will Wilson provided the bulk of the offense by going 4 for 4 with a homer, double and two RBI. Freshman Michael Bienlein and senior Joe O’Donnell then combined for a four-hit shutout on Saturday in a 7-0 win that saw Josh McLain pick up three hits, including a homer, and three RBI. Brian Brown gave State another quality start on Sunday, leaving the game with a 4-3 lead after six, but Delaware struck for three runs in the top of the seventh off relievers Dalton Feeney and Austin Staley to prevent the sweep. UNCW (24-22, 12-6 CAA) was able to complete its sweep by beating conference rival Northeastern three times this weekend. The Seahawks have now won six of their last seven to move above .500 overall for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. Not only that, but with the three wins, they are now tied with William & Mary for the league lead and guaranteed a spot in the CAA tournament on their home field later this month. Senior right fielder Casey Golden earned CAA Player of the Week honors for going 7 for 15 on the weekend with three homers and three doubles. His first long ball was a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 12th that gave UNCW a 4-3 victory on Friday. Golden also homered in each of the next two games to give him a league-leading 14 for the season. Saturday, his bat and the arm of freshman left-hander Zarion Sharpe lifted the Seahawks to an 11-4 victory. Sharpe earned the CAA’s Rookie of the Week award by pitching into the ninth, allowing only three hits and two runs to win his fifth straight start. Golden went 3 for 4 with three runs scored in the game, while Brian Mins and Ryan Jeffers also homered. UNCW completed the sweep with a 7-3 win on Sunday. While the Seahawks and Wolfpack are finally starting to trend in the right direction, ECU is headed in the opposite direction after getting swept on the road by AAC rival South Florida. It was a familiar story for the foundering Pirates (24-24, 4-14), who were done in by a combination of spotty pitching, big innings and an inability to hold onto late leads. ECU wasted a homer and three RBI by star Dwayna Williams-Sutton on Friday by giving up three runs in the seventh that turned a tie game into an 8-6 loss. On Saturday, Tyler Watkins hit a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth, only to see USF come back to win the game 5-4 with a run in the bottom of the 10th. Sunday’s game was over almost as soon as it started as the Bulls touched starter Jake Agnos for five runs in the bottom of the first on the way to handing the Pirates a 6-3 loss. Elsewhere around the state on a light weekend in which both North Carolina and Duke did not play, Wake Forest got a big performance from Gavin Sheets in earning a series win against Boston College. Sheets, a junior first baseman, hit two homers and drove in six runs on Friday to propel the Deacons to a 15-5 win and earn recognition as the ACC’s Player of the Week. Teammate Ben Breazeale went 4 for 4 in the game while ace Parker Dunshee picked up his eighth victory of the season. After a 7-0 loss on Saturday in which it mustered only five hits against the Eagles, Wake (32-14, 15-9 ACC) bounced back with a 5-2 win that saw Jonathan Pryor homer and Connor Johnstone improve to 7-0 with 6⅔ strong innings pitched. It was also a productive weekend for two rivals battling to earn spots in the MEAC tournament. NC A&T (25-21, 14-7) clinched its first conference tourney berth since 2013 and catapulted to the top of the South Division standings by winning three straight Savannah State. Mi