All season long, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent knew he could count on Curt Britt and Will Gilbert, two of the best arms in Wolfpack’s bullpen. That’s why Britt earned the start Friday against Stony Brook, the Wolfpack’s first opponent in the NCAA Fort Worth Regional.
That’s also why when Britt found a patch of trouble, Avent turned to Gilbert, who earned an 11-out save to help N.C. State to a 3-0 win over the Seawolves at TCU’s Lupton Stadium.
The Wolfpack will face the TCU Horned Frogs, 10-0 winners over Sacred Heart, on Saturday at 8 p.m. A win would clinch a spot in the tournament championship game Sunday night.
Gilbert cruised to the finish, but only after pitching the biggest outs of the game for Stony Brook.
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After relieving Britt with an out in the sixth inning and N.C. State up 2-0, Gilbert walked Casey Baker to load the bases and give Stony Brook its first real chance to score. The next batter, Andruw Grazzola, swung at Gilbert’s first pitch, grounding a ball hard to shortstop.
Logan Ratledge, who homered the inning before, was there to roll the easy inning-ending double play. N.C. State (35-21) was safe.
“Gilbert’s been unbelievable all year,” Avent said. “He’s been just like Curt. Gilbert and Curt have been our two most valuable people out of the bullpen.”
Britt was solid, giving up four hits and striking out two in 5 1/3 innings. Two Stony Brook (34-15-1) batters reached base in the first inning, after a two-out single and hit batter.
But Britt responded with a strikeout of Baker and allowed only two runners over the next four innings.
“I was pumped,” Britt said. “I was kind of mad at myself for us getting two runs in the bottom of the inning, and then I go out there and put two runners on. But I had all the confidence – Gilly’s been doing it all year.”
N.C. State’s offense chipped away at Stony Brook ace Daniel Zamora, collecting seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. Ratledge’s homer scored Jake Fincher and broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning.
Ratledge, a right-handed batter, said he entered the game with an opposite-field approach. But when the lefty Zamora placed a pitch over the center of the plate, Ratledge couldn’t help but loft one to deep left field. It curved and hit the bottom of the foul pole for the home run.
“I hit it, and I knew it had a shot, but at the same time, I didn’t even know if it was going to get out, honestly,” Ratledge said. “It stayed fair and had just enough on it. When it went out, I was just so happy.”
Josh McLain singled home Fincher in the eighth. Stony Brook singled twice in the ninth inning, but Gilbert got the game’s final batter to ground out to second base.
Preston Palmeiro went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Chance Shepard and Fincher also collected hits.