DURHAM — Good things don’t often happen for NC State when it’s matched up against Wake Forest.
No matter what the sport or the circumstance.
Whether it’s a fumble at the goal line in football, a frigid 1 for 15 3-point shooting performance in basketball and a season-crushing defeat in basketball or the loss of a baseball series — all of which have happened during the past year-and-a-half — anything that can go wrong usually does for the Wolfpack.
Until Thursday night at the ACC baseball tournament.
Trailing by three going into its final at bat at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with history on the verge of repeating itself yet again, State finally exorcised its Deacon demons by scoring four times for an improbable 6-5 victory.
Light-hitting reserve outfielder Terrell Tatum capped the rally by legging out an infield single with two out in the top of the ninth, scoring the tying run from third and the go-ahead run from second on a play that was reversed after video review.
The win advances the Wolfpack into the tournament semifinals on Saturday, regardless of the outcome of Friday’s meaningless pool play finale against Florida State.
“I’m just really happy for the guys because it shows NC State is famous for a lot of things,” a giddy coach Elliott Avent said afterwards. “One thing they’re famous for is “don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” and nobody will ever forget Jimmy V. and that famous speech.
“Through life guys have to know that if you keep grinding and do the right thing, it might not work out today, it might not work out tomorrow, but it’s the only thing you can do. And if you keep doing it, it will give you something like this once in a while and this is something you’ll never forget.”
Avent and his players would just as soon forget most of the game leading up to the dramatic finish.
A pair of errors, three hits and one controversial call at the plate that wasn’t overturned in the second inning staked Wake to an early 4-0 lead that had the Wolfpack (42-15) playing catchup for the rest of the evening.
It was an effort that seemed to be headed for a familiar ending State twice left the bases loaded on its way to stranding 13 runners in the game. But thanks to the work of Nick Swiney, who allowed only one run in 3⅔ innings in relief of starting pitcher Reid Johnston, the Wolfpack was able to stay within striking distance.
“Swiney came in early and I just thought we needed to change things,” Avent said. “He was unbelievable.”
The Deacons, who at 31-26 needed a win to extend their season, helped State’s cause by committing two errors of their own in the seventh, leading to a pair of unearned runs that finally got the Wolfpack on the board. Designated hitter Brad Debo drove in one of the runs with a double off the wall in right on a 3-0 pitch.
Two innings later, with his team trailing 5-2, Debo was front-and-center in another rally.
It started when Will Wilson blooped a ball just out of the reach of Deacons right fielder Michael Ludowig and into the corner for a triple. Patrick Bailey and Tyler McDonough followed with walks sandwiched around an Evan Edwards line out to load the bases for the fourth time in the game.
Debo’s two-run single got State to within 5-4. Then after Luca Tresh fanned for the second out of the inning and down to his last strike, Tatum — a .217 hitter who entered the game in the sixth — bounced a ball to second base. Wake’s Michael Turconi hesitated ever so slightly, allowing the speedy Tatum to beat the throw at first and the tying run to score.
“(Turconi) double clutched and it cost us on that ground ball,” Deacons coach Tom Walter said. “(We) got the ground ball we needed and just didn’t make the play.”
Wake’s defense let it down again when catcher Logan Harvey missed the tag on hustling pinch runner David Harrison trying to score from second. Harrison was originally called out on the play, but the ruling was reversed after a video review that sent the decidedly pro-Wolfpack crowd into a frenzy and left several Deacon fielders throwing their hands into the air in disbelief.
Freshman Cameron Cotter, the seventh State pitcher in the game, calmly worked around a leadoff double by ACC Player of the Year Bobby Seymour to earn the save and preserve the victory. It was the third time this season in which the Wolfpack rallied to win a game in the ninth and the seventh time it has earned a victory when trailing after six innings.
Of all those comebacks, Debo said this one was by far the most meaningful..
“Just the emotions going on in the dugout and how we strung it together in the end is unbelievable,” he said. “We all bought in, we pulled for each other. We all wanted to do the same thing. It was shaky in the beginning of the game. We were leaving guys on, but we didn’t quit. We kept going and going and eventually it would work out.”
In other ACC tournament games Wednesday, Clemson sent top-seeded Louisville home with a pair of losses by beating the Cardinals 7-1 behind a spectacular pitching performance from Mat Clark — who retired the first 22 batters he faced and took a no-hitter into the ninth.
Miami defeated Virginia 10-3 to set up a showdown against North Carolina on Friday, with the winner earning a spot in the semifinals. Duke will also have a shot a advancing in its game against Georgia Tech.