NC State wins a crucial road matchup against UNCW with conference play next on the schedule.
WILMINGTON, N.C. — No. 20 NC State (7-6) traveled down to visit UNCW (3-8) desperately in need of a win after losing five of its last seven games. The Wolfpack bats came out to silence the Seahawks Wednesday afternoon at Brooks Field, 8-5.
“It’s a tough place to play,” head coach Elliott Avent said. “We’ve had trouble getting wins down here. It’s good to leave here with a win, and I’m proud of the way these guys played.”
Junior third baseman Evan Mendoza and freshmen shortstop Will Wilson and designated hitter Brad Debo catalyzed the State offense with home runs against the Seahawks. Their respective home runs were all each player’s first of the season while Wilson’s and Debo’s were their first in their respective collegiate careers.
Junior center fielder Josh McLain also had a strong day versus UNCW, finishing 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Christian Demby started on the mound for the Pack and hurled four innings. He surrendered two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out two before giving way to senior righty Joe O’Donnell (1-0, 3.00 ERA). The Wilmington native picked up the win after 1-2/3 innings of shutout baseball, only allowing two hits and a walk.
“Christian got us off to a great start,” Avent said. “Joe came in and did what he does. He’s a veteran, and he got the win.”
“It was a big win for us,” O’Donnell said. “We needed this win heading into conference play. This is my fourth year, and it was the first time I’ve gotten to pitch here in Wilmington.”
Junior right-hander Zach Usselman followed O’Donnell and dominated on the mound until the Snoqualmie, Wash. native gave up a three-run home run to Mason Berne, the only runs he surrendered. The four-bagger was one of three UNCW hits Usselman allowed in his tenure on the mound. He also struck out three batters and walked two.
Redshirt sophomore Austin Staley earned his first save of the season after entering the game in the eighth to pick up where Usselman left off. The North Wilkesboro, N.C. native shut down the Seahawk rally with 1-2/3 innings of dominant pitching. Staley held UNCW without a hit and struck out a bat to secure the Wolfpack win.
“Staley’s pitching out of the pen better than anybody for us,” Avent said. “Every run and every inning is important for us, and he’s probably the best arm we’ve got in the bullpen right now.”
State started the scoring in the top of the second. Junior first baseman Shane Shepard reached on a fielding error and moved to third on a double by junior catcher Andy Cosgrove. McLain singled into center to plate both Pack runners. The lead extended in the State third with back-to-back leadoff homers by Debo and Mendoza.
“I kind of thought ahead, ‘Why not go back-to-back?'” Mendoza joked. “Sometimes, I do that to get ready to hit. Really, I was happy I got to a 3-2 count after getting an 0-2 count, so I was happy with how I was taking pitches. That’s a big deal.”
The Pack added another run in the fourth. McLain reached on a one-out single. Junior right fielder Brock Deatherage was hit by a pitch soon after. Wilson hit into a fielder’s choice, resulting in McLain getting forced out at third. Debo followed with a single to first base. The UNCW first baseman collided with the first-base umpire, allowing Deatherage to score on the error.
The Seahawks plated its first run in the home half of the fourth thanks to a solo home run off the bat of Nick Feight. The Pack would respond with two more runs in the sixth. Cosgrove was beaned to start the inning. After moving to second on an errant pickoff throw, McLain bunted him to third. Two batters later, Wilson launched his first career homer over the wall in left-center.
The final NC State run came in the top of the ninth. Deatherage led off the frame with a walk and moved to second on a groundout. After attempting to steal third, the Burlington, N.C. native scored after the attempt to throw him out sailed into the outfield grass.
The Wolfpack will open ACC play on Friday as the team travels to Winston-Salem, N.C. to take on Wake Forest in a three-game series. First pitch for Game 1 is slated for 6 pm.
“It’s just another game,” Mendoza said. “We’re not going to draw a bigger picture than what it really is. We’re a great group of guys who are getting along really well, and we’re excited where it’s going to take us.”