The day before the ACC tournament started, N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent stood on the edge of the infield at Doak Field and watched his team finish practice with Bobby Lutz, an assistant coach with the Wolfpack basketball team.
Avent, a diehard hoops fan and a good friend of Lutz and N.C. State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried, noted the similarities – both highs and lows – between the two programs in recent years.
“We always seem to be on the same path,” Avent said then.
Unfortunately for Avent and the N.C. State baseball team, the similarities continued Monday night in Fort Worth, Texas, in the NCAA tournament.
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Just like the Wolfpack basketball team a year ago, the baseball team suffered mind-numbing, gut-wrenching postseason defeat after victory appeared certain.
N.C. State squandered an 8-1 lead with two outs in the eighth inning against Texas Christian on Monday, with a spot in the Super Regional round at stake.
The Horned Frogs, the No. 7 national seed, came back to win 9-8 in 10 innings after five walks, four errors, two balks and two passed balls by the Wolfpack in the final three innings.
Four outs from being eliminated, and down seven runs, TCU somehow managed eight runs on five singles.
“How do you even begin to describe that?” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle asked in his postgame news conference.
For most N.C. State fans, the loss conjured images of a painful collapse against Saint Louis in the Round of 64 in the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament.
The Wolfpack, an underdog against a higher-seeded team – just like the baseball team Monday – led that game by 14 points with 5 minutes left in regulation, but lost 83-80 in overtime after a series of missed free throws and mental lapses.
N.C. State built its lead Monday chasing one of the top relievers in college baseball in the process, but TCU scored six runs in the eighth, one in the ninth and then plated the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th.
The postseason collapse was one parallel to the basketball program Avent could have done without. Avent had marveled before the ACC tournament at the similarities between the programs this season.
Both teams lost high draft picks (T.J. Warrren for hoops, Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner for baseball) and, accordingly, preseason expectations were low.
The basketball team lost six of eight games in the middle of the ACC schedule, and realistic hopes for the season appeared sunk.
The baseball team lost nine of 12 games in the middle of the ACC schedule, and hope was scarce.
Both teams rebounded to play their best at the season’s end. The basketball team reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and the baseball team was within one game of baseball’s round of 16.
“To me, that’s what college athletics is all about: to see people grow up and get better and have pride in themselves and in the school,” Avent said after Monday’s loss.
Avent’s team was 21-18 on April 24 after a home loss to Virginia. It won 10 of its last 12 regular-season games just to get into the ACC tournament, then three straight ACC tournament games before losing in the conference title game.
The Wolfpack won its first two games in the Fort Worth regional, handling Stony Brook 3-0 on Thursday and TCU 5-4 on Friday, after a dramatic ninth-inning home run by Chance Shepard.
But TCU, which took a 27-2 home record into regional play, won Sunday’s elimination game against N.C. State 8-2 and set the stage for Monday’s wild finish.
TCU tied the score in the ninth after a balk by Curt Britt moved Derek Odell, who led off the inning with a single, from second to third. Odell tied the game at eight after another passed ball.
After the game, Avent said he wasn’t happy with the balk call on Britt, but he tried to keep everything in perspective – from where the team was five weeks ago to how it finished, even if the actual ending was painful.
“It was kind of neat to see what they did,” Avent said. “It’s disappointing that it didn’t end the way we wanted to, as well as we played, but that’s the game.”
It didn’t take long for N.C. State fans to commiserate on Twitter on Monday night after the baseball team gave up a seven-run lead in a 9-8 loss to TCU in the NCAA tournament. Wolfpack fans have been subjected to some excruciating collapses this century, most in basketball. A handful of the painful memories:
1) Basketball: vs. Duke, 2003 ACC tournament title game
The Wolfpack, blown out by 30 points by Duke in the ACC title game the year before, led the Blue Devils 55-40 midway through the second before J.J. Redick exploded for 23 of his 30 points to carry Duke to an 84-77 win.
2) Basketball: vs. Vanderbilt, 2004 NCAA tournament game
A No. 3 seed after its most successful ACC season since David Thompson was a junior, N.C. State led Vanderbilt by 11 points with 3:45 left in the game and by 10 points with 2:45 left.
But Matt Freije led an improbable Vanderbilt comeback, scoring 11 of his team’s final 19 points (and a game-high 31 points).
3) Football: vs. UNC, 2012
N.C. State erased a 25-7 first-quarter deficit to take a 35-25 lead into the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels scored the game’s final 18 points, including the game-winning touchdown on Gio Bernard’s 74-yard punt return with 13 seconds left.
4) Basketball: vs. Saint Louis, 2014
Up 59-45 with 5 minutes left in regulation, N.C. State appeared through to the Round of 32, but the senior-laden Billikens kept chipping away and the Wolfpack kept missing foul shots.
N.C. State missed 17 free throws in all and lost 83-80 in overtime.
5) Football vs. Florida State, 2014
A 16-point underdog, the Wolfpack jumped to a 24-7 lead against No. 1 Florida State in the first quarter. The Wolfpack led 31-21 and 38-28 in the third quarter but couldn’t hold off the Seminoles, who scored 28 of the game’s last 31 points for a 56-41 victory.