RALEIGH It’s only fitting that it took 17 innings and more than 7 1/2 hours to end a drought at 45 years.
As N.C. State celebrated in front of the mound, Brett Williams, who drove in the winning run, was the last on the pile, a little after 11:30 p.m., leaping high into the air and somersaulting on the top as the crowd chanted “O-ma-ha” over and over.
“You never want to think too far ahead,” Williams said, “but I wanted to be the last one in the pile, and put a little bang on the end of it.”
The Wolfpack is going to the College World Series for the first time since 1968, and it took a game worthy of that lofty goal to get it there. Williams doubled in Tarran Senay in the 17th before Ethan Ogburn locked down the 5-4 win against Rice with his fifth scoreless inning of relief.
“There have been a lot of good teams, even the three teams since I’ve been here,” Senay said. “This team is something special. … We’re not done yet. We’ll go to Omaha and see what we can do.”
Forty-five years. That’s how long it had been since this proud ACC program made it to the CWS. That’s the drought that ended Sunday, to the delight of a capacity crowd at Doak Field that thinned out during an 12th-inning rain delay only to fill back in as fans wandered through the open gates, lured by yet another classic game in a spring that has been overflowing with them.
A day after the Wolfpack rallied for a win in the bottom of the ninth, this newest incarnation of the Cardiac Pack summoned another surge, scoring three runs in the ninth to tie it at 4 – but stranding the potential go-ahead run at second.
Stalemate ensued, as did a 77-minute rain delay in the bottom of the 12th. The Wolfpack threw everything into the breech, using nine pitchers, before finally breaking through in the 17th, then putting two runners on before Ogburn got the final out, a fly to Bryan Adametz in left.
N.C. State won Saturday with Carlos Rodon on the mound – expected at this point – but it took a team effort to win Sunday. Logan Jernigan went five gritty innings, Jake Fincher knocked in two runs with a one-out single in the ninth, Senay doubled him in and Jake Armstrong reached base six times in a variety of methods. Ogburn, meanwhile, threw five critical innings, giving up only two hits and striking out six.
Now the Wolfpack will turn its attention to Chapel Hill, where the winner of Monday’s game between North and South Carolina will be N.C. State’s opening opponent in Omaha, Neb. Should the Tar Heels win, it would renew a rivalry that already has generated one amazingly memorable game this season, taking 18 innings to determine a winner at the ACC tournament in Durham. Who knows what might happen if they meet again?
It has been a long time for N.C. State, but as far as the Wolfpack is concerned, it’s the beginning of a new streak.
“I’m glad we got to do it in front of our own fans,” Williams said. “This is awesome. It’s the best memory of my life.”
For N.C. State baseball, before Sunday night, there was only one best memory: 1968. Now there’s a new one.
“The code to the locker room,” coach Elliott Avent said, “will be changed tomorrow morning.”
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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