OMAHA, Neb. — NC State’s baseball season came to an end early Saturday morning, hours before the players were scheduled to take the field for a deciding third game against Vanderbilt.
“The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has declared the Vanderbilt-NC State Men’s College World Series game scheduled for Saturday, June 26 at 1 p.m. Central time a no-contest because of COVID-19 protocols,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This decision was made based on the recommendation of the Championship Medical Team and the Douglas County Health Department. As a result, Vanderbilt will advance to the CWS Finals. The NCAA and the committee regret that NC State’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate. Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”
Friday’s game was delayed for an hour due to COVID protocols that had much of NC State’s roster in quarantine. The Wolfpack were not allowed in their locker room or on the field for infield practice, and coach Elliott Avent said “some players had to go into a holding room.”
When the game began, State had 13 players available. With freshmen and little-used reserves filling holes and regulars playing out of position, the Wolfpack gave Vanderbilt a scare before losing 3-1.
Avent and the Wolfpack were hopeful that many of the players held out due to contact tracing would be available on Saturday. “Hopefully we’ll have a lot of guys to pitch,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have Reid Johnston, Sam Highfill and a lot of guys. … We’ll see.”
Instead, the NCAA went in the other direction and won’t let NC State take the field. It wasn’t clear if the players held out tested positive or if State had more players enter the protocols after testing.
The NCAA policy was recently relaxed for athletes that are fully vaccinated. It reads, “Fully vaccinated student-athletes and other Tier 1 individuals with no COVID-19-like symptoms may be exempt from routine testing. Student-athletes and other Tier 1 participants who are not vaccinated must continue to undergo testing at NCAA championships.”
It’s believed that State had a number of players that were not vaccinated, and the team had several players and coaches exhibiting symptoms — Avent said after Monday’s game that “a bug” was going through the team.
“Coach (Chris) Hart’s been sick for probably five or six days,” he said. “J.T. Jarrett caught the bug a couple days ago. This bug seems to be going around. Cameron Cotter. I’ve got it a little bit. This bug seems to be floating around.”
Unvaccinated players testing positive or the symptoms from “the bug” would have been enough to trigger the next part of the NCAA policy:
“If there is evidence of substantial or high transmission in the community, or if there are COVID-19 variants that escape the effect of the vaccine, then testing may need to resume for fully vaccinated individuals. Such decisions will be made in conjunction with local public health authorities and/or federal guidance.”
The New York Yankees had a situation earlier this year where several fully vaccinated players were forced to miss time and serve a quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
Avent refused to discuss the vaccination status of his players after Friday’s game.
“My job is to teach them baseball,” he said. “Make sure they get an education and keep them on the right track forward. But I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my things that, my opinions. Obviously we talk about a lot of things. But these are young men that can make their own decisions and that’s what they did.”
Avent quickly became frustrated with the line of questioning.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to talk about that,” he said. “If you want to talk baseball, we can talk baseball. If you want to talk politics or stuff like that, you can go talk to my head of sports medicine, Rob Murphy.”
In the end, however, the political stuff kept the baseball from taking place and brought the Wolfpack’s season to a premature end.
“This is a heartbreaking situation and I’m gutted for everyone involved and for all those that were captivated by the heart and fight of this team,” Avent said after the decision was announced. “Our medical staff and our players have been incredible this season with all they’ve done to keep us safe and get us ready to play, day in and day out. I love this team and this past month, many people that got to watch them, fell in love with them as well. Although we’re all heartbroken, this team will never be forgotten and will live in the hearts of Wolfpack and baseball fans forever.”
“The last 24 hours have been extremely difficult for everyone involved and my heart goes out to the student-athletes, coaches and staff of our baseball program,” said NC State Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan. “This is an excruciating way to have their season come to a conclusion, we appreciate their efforts all year long, as well as the incredible support from Wolfpack Nation. No one will ever forget how they came together, inspired us all, and how they represented NC State. The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff will always be our unwavering priority. The timing of this is simply devastating for everyone involved, but it doesn’t diminish their incredible accomplishments this season.”
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips released a statement saying, “We are truly heartbroken for NC State’s student-athletes, coaches, support staff, administration, alumni and fans. To have the season abruptly end this way is devastating. Watching this team, especially in the postseason, has been nothing short of inspiring and we applaud the entire program for the resiliency it has shown this season.”