No. 13 NC State (34-18, 15-13 ACC) wrapped up its regular season schedule Saturday afternoon by winning its series against UNC (34-21, 13-17 ACC) at Doak Field at Dail Park, 10-1.
“It’s good to see our team play well and bounce back after getting drubbed yesterday,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “This team has been a character team all year. They dig deep when it’s needed, and they dug deep today.”
The Wolfpack’s seniors were honored prior to the start of the game, and three State seniors had performances to remember.
Chance Shepard finished 1-for-3 at the plate with a double and two runs scored. Pinch-hitting for Shepard in the eighth, Ryne Willard drove in a run in his only at-bat on the afternoon. Will Gilbert threw three innings on the mound and struck out six batters to secure his sixth save of the season and his second in the series against the Tar Heels.
“It means a lot to get the save,” Gilbert said. “This crowd was great today. It’s been great all weekend and really all year. It was fun to do it in front of our home crowd.”
Preston Palmeiro and Evan Mendoza each catalyzed the Pack’s offense with two-run home runs in the third and seventh innings respectively. Palmeiro finished 2-for-2 with the homer, two runs batted in, a run scored, and three walks while Mendoza was 2-for-4 with the four-bagger, three RBI, and two runs.
“This was one of those weekends,” Palmeiro said. “I was trying to get some pitches to hit and looking for fastballs. I got them this weekend, and fortunately, I didn’t miss them.”
Ryan Williamson started on the mound for State but left after 3-1/3 innings due to tightness in his triceps. He struck out five and walked one while only giving up an unearned run on two hits. Austin Staley (2-1, 2.61) relieved him and picked up the win on 1-2/3 innings’ work.
Evan Brabrand hurled an inning and only surrendered a hit before Gilbert worked his magic to secure the win.
After trailing early in both games prior against UNC, the Pack scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the second inning. Brock Deatherage led off the frame with a triple and scored two batters on a wild pitch on ball four to Andrew Knizner.
State used the momentum to tack on two runs in the third and fourth innings. Mendoza reached base on a one-out single in the third to set up Palmeiro for his eighth home run of the season. Brett Kinneman led off the fourth with a double into left-center. Two batters later, Shepard walked. Josh McLain loaded the bases thanks to a UNC fielding error. Stephen Pitarra reached base on an RBI bean ball, scoring Kinneman in the process. Mendoza plated Shepard with a sacrifice fly into center field.
The Heels’ pitching contributed to State’s lone sixth-inning run. Pitarra led off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Following a Mendoza strikeout, Palmeiro and Joe Dunand walked to load the bases. Two batters later, Kinneman walked to plate Pitarra.
The Pack padded its lead in the seventh with three runs. Shepard doubled to start the inning and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by McLain. Pitarra singled to drive Shepard home before Mendoza crushed a 2-1 pitch off the flag pole in left-center field for his fourth homer of the year.
After a Kinneman double started the eighth inning, Willard drove him in two batters later to conclude State’s scoring for the regular season.
“The crowd gave [Willard] a standing ovation recognizing him as a senior and what he’s contributed to the program,” Avent said. “That base hit was really special.”
NC State will return to action next week at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournament. The play-in games will be held Tuesday before pool play begins on Wednesday.