Baseball

Riley rebounds to push NC State into NCAA tournament

His real name is Patrick but no one calls N.C. State senior outfielder Bubby Riley by his birth name.

His nickname is a cross between Bobby and Bubba and derives its meaning from a family dog and the movie "Forrest Gump." He even picked up "Chubby Bubby," via Twitter, as a playful modifier to his moniker this season.

By any name, Riley has been one of the Wolfpack's most important players during the past month and one of the main reasons it's back in the NCAA tournament.

There have been different contributions from different players during N.C. State's 13-3 closing stretch, senior shortstop Logan Ratledge pointed out, "but we wouldn't be here without Bubby."

The Wolfpack (34-21) opens regional play on Friday against Stony Brook in Fort Worth, Texas. It was Riley's walk-off home run against Virginia on April 26 that kick-started the Wolfpack's strong close to the regular season.

In the past 14 games, 13 of them starts in right field, Riley has hit .308 with 12 runs batted in and scored eight runs.

"He sparked himself and he sparked the team at the same time," sophomore catcher Andrew Knizner said. "He keeps coming up with big hits in big situations for us."

The way the season started, that would have been difficult to predict, even by Riley. A big corner outfielder (6-3, 215 pounds) with a powerful lefty stroke, Riley couldn't find his swing or his confidence.

His batting average was at .200 through the first 40 games and he was in and out of the lineup, mostly out, and spent the start of the season hoping for a better ending.

"Is this going to be it for me?" Riley thought more than once during February and March.

Riley, a 40th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2013, had planned on doing more at N.C. State than being an occasional pinch-hitter with a cool nickname.

Riley hit .314 and drove in 50 runs in 55 games at Delgado Community College near New Orleans before choosing the Wolfpack over Vanderbilt, Tulane, Oklahoma State and minor-league ball.

A shoulder injury, after a nasty collision with the outfield wall after a spectacular catch against Florida State early in the 2014 season, derailed his first season with the Wolfpack.

He started 33 of 39 games in 2014 but hit just .200 and was never healthy after separating his right shoulder.

"I tried to come back too fast," Riley said. “I was never really the same after the injury."

And he was trying to do too much at the start of this season to make up for any shortcomings from 2014. One thing Riley always had, though, was the support of teammates.

Ratledge, senior outfielder Jake Fincher and sophomore pitcher Ryan Williamson in particular have always been there for a quick pick-me-up, Riley said.

"Honestly, some days it wasn't always fun to come to the field, knowing you're just going to sit on the bench," Riley said. "But even when I wasn't always as confident in myself, my teammates always had confidence in me and kept me in it mentally."

Riley's talent and the tools are obvious, but he needed a little nudge.

"There were definitely times where he was really discouraged," Ratledge said. "We told him to stick with it and work hard and trust good things will eventually happen. It has worked out really well for him."

Riley's fortunes, and N.C. State's, changed against Virginia on April 26.

After losing the first game of the series, and falling to 21-18 on the season, N.C. State found itself in a 3-3 game in the last inning. Luck was running against the Wolfpack, which had lost nine of the previous 12 games, including five by one run.

But with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, N.C. State coach Elliott Avent brought Riley on as pinch-hitter to face Virginia righty Tommy Doyle. Doyle got behind 2-0 on the count and Riley knew what he was getting with the next pitch.

"I was thinking, 'You're going to get a fastball right here, just make sure you don't miss it,' " Riley said.

Riley guessed right and he did not miss. He jacked Doyle's fastball to dead center, about halfway up the batter's eye wall in the deepest part of Doak Field.

The emotion was clear on his face as rounded the bases and pumped his fists.

"It was like a weight lifted off your shoulders," Riley said. "After that, it was like, 'Alright, I can do this.' "

He has been a fixture in the lineup ever since. He had three hits and four RBI in the Wolfpack's 19-1 series-opening win at Wake Forest on May 8.

He hit a grand slam in the ACC tournament against Virginia and scored a run in Wolfpack's 6-2 loss in the ACC title game to Florida State.

Riley has made up for the slow start with a fast finish.

"That really shows what kind of person he is," Knizner said. "He's a true team player. He wasn't playing as much as he would like but he knew he would get his shot and he has made the most of it."

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Slow start, fast finish

Senior outfielder Bubby Riley changed N.C. State’s season, and his, with walk-off home run to beat Virginia 4-3 on April 26.

Starts

H-AB

AVG.

RBI

First 40 games

11

10-50

.200

4

Last 14 games

13

16-52

.308

12

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