DURHAM — An ACC tournament that began with such promise for North Carolina teams will end without any of them making it through to the semifinal round.
Following the lead of Triangle rivals North Carolina and Duke, both of whom were also the top seed in their respective pools, NC State dropped its second straight game in the tournament on Friday to suffer a premature elimination.
The Wolfpack fell behind early and never fully recovered in dropping a 5-2 decision to Florida State at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The loss provided an disappointing ending to an ominous two days in which State’s starting pitchers were unable to get past the third inning and its once-potent offense suddenly started struggling to score runs.
The good news for the Wolfpack — as well as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils — is that they’ll all have some extra time to regroup and refocus in preparation for the start of the NCAA tournament next week.
“We’ve got to look ahead,” said leadoff hitter Josh McLain, who had a pair of hits and drove in one of the Wolfpack’s two runs against the Seminoles. “We’ve got a regional coming up. That’s what we’re focused on now. We’ve got to put this behind us and get ready to go (next) weekend.”
Despite losing 4-2 to Virginia in its ACC opener on Thursday, State (40-16) was still in position to advance to the semifinals because of tournament’s tie-breaking procedure. All it had to do was beat the Seminoles, a team it played last weekend in the final series of the regular season.
All three of those games were close, with Florida State winning two in walkoff fashion.
This one, however, got away from the Wolfpack early.
The Seminoles broke through against State ace Brian Brown with a run on three hits in the top of the first. Then, after the ACC’s newly crowned Pitcher of the Year appeared to settle in by striking out the side in the third, FSU delivered a knockout blow with an impressive show of power.
The aptly named Cal Raleigh, who drove in his team’s first run with a double, followed an RBI single by teammate Rhett Aplin by launching a towering homer off the bull atop the left field wall.
Brown’s night ended shortly thereafter following a double off the wall and a hit batsman. The 2⅓ inning outing was the shortest of the year for the senior left-hander and the first time in 15 starts this season that he didn’t pitch at least five innings.
“Brian Brown was very, very good for two innings. The third inning was where they did most of the damage,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “He made some big pitches, but in the third inning, he just couldn’t seem to make the pitch. But part of that is Florida State.
“We just got through playing them three times in Tallahassee, and obviously we see the teams that we see, but for the teams that we played this year, and we played a great schedule, that’s as good a team and as hot a team as we’ve seen all year.”
And yet, after Brown departed, the three relief pitchers that followed him did an admirable job of holding the Seminoles’ bats in check. Between them, Nolan Clenney, Kent Klyman and Joe O’Donnell held FSU to just a single run on four hits.
But by then, the damage was already done thanks to Seminoles starter Drew Parrish.
The sophomore left-hander, who beat State just last week, was in full control while allowing only five hits and striking out 14 in a complete game victory.
His only trouble came in the fifth, when the Wolfpack scored its two runs on an RBI double by Evan Edwards and McLain’s two-out single up the middle. Parrish allowed only one more hit the rest of the way.
“There’s not enough good things I can say about it,” Avent said of Parrish.
‘We just ran into tough pitching, but we’re just going to stay with what we do,” McLain said. “We hit well all year, just going to keep pushing.”
The Wolfpack will learn of its NCAA seeding and matchups on Monday. Rather than look behind and linger on their two losses in Durham, Avent and his players have already begun to wipe the slate clean and look ahead to the next tournament — one in which they are a virtual lock to serve as a regional host.
“I think our confidence is good,” the State coach said. “We got down 5-0 and Florida State had just knocked our ace out, the pitcher of the year in the ACC. And they were playing with a lot of confidence.
“Like I said, they’re playing very, very well right now. I think our confidence is very, very high.”