No. 8 NC State (8-2) opened its 2016 Irish Classic slate with a dominating win over Niagara (2-9) Friday afternoon at Doak Field at Dail Park, 7-1. The win marked the fifth straight for the Wolfpack as well as head coach Elliott Avent’s 725th career victory.
Chance Shepard set a school record with his sixth straight game with a home run. His two-run long ball in the first inning gave the Pack the lead after the Purple Eagles struck first in the top half of the frame. He finished 2-for-5 at the plate with a double and three strikeouts. His six home runs on the season lead the Atlantic Coast Conference while his 15 RBI place him second behind Florida State’s John Sansone.
“Chance Shepard is a leader on this team,” starting pitcher Ryan Williamson said. “Everybody looks up to him, and he does his job. [The home run] got momentum going for us.”
Josh McLain also flexed his muscles against Niagara. Though 1-for-5 at the plate, his lone hit was a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth. McLain now has two homers this season as well as 11 RBI, placing him second on the team behind Shepard (15).
“They were throwing off-speed all day,” McLain said. “I was looking to try to stay down the middle. They finally gave me a pitch I could hit.”
Williamson (1-0, 3.07 ERA) started for the Pack and threw a career-high eight strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings. He surrendered one unearned run on six hits while walking four to secure the win. Austin Staley and Christian Demby pitched the final 3-1/3 innings and combined for six strikeouts, two hits, and no walks to silence the Purple Eagles’ offense.
After gaining the lead in the first, State extended the lead in the bottom of the third. After a leadoff walk by Preston Palmeiro, Andrew Knizner singled to put runners on the corners. Two batters later, Evan Mendoza singled to plate Palmeiro. Knizner finished 3-for-4 at the plate while Mendoza went 2-for-5.
NC State will return to action Saturday at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary as the Wolfpack takes on Alabama at 4:30 pm. State will return to Doak Field at Dail Park on Sunday to face Bucknell at 1 pm.
“[Alabama’s] a tough SEC team, and they’re going to be really good” Avent said. “They’re going to be a team you’re going to see at the end of the year if you think you’re going to have a chance to play for a national championship.”