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NC State, UNC eliminated at CWS

North Carolina State infielder Matt Heavner (6) consoles infielder Luke Nixon (0) after the Wolfpack were eliminated from the College World Series with a 5-4 loss to Florida. (Mike Buscher/AP Photo)

For the second time ever, North Carolina and NC State both took the field in the College World Series, each vying for their first national title.

With both teams on opposite sides of the bracket, fans of the rival schools would’ve hoped to see an I-40 showdown for all the marbles, but after the first weekend of CWS action, one of them will already be heading towards home to get ready for next season.

After dropping its first two CWS games, NC State got eliminated, and UNC is on the ropes after going 1-1 in its first two contests. Here’s a look at what happened and where the two teams stand after the start of the CWS:

Painful ending for the Pack

Same score, different circumstances, same heartbreak.

If just a few things had gone differently for the Wolfpack, they could very well still be on the wild ride they’ve enjoyed the last few weeks. However, at the fault of Kentucky’s Mitchell Daly hitting a walk-off home run for the Wildcats’ first ever CWS win and missed opportunities for the Wolfpack against Florida, NC State’s season is over.

NC State lost both games by a score of 5-4. This is the first time the Wolfpack have lost its opening two games in the CWS, and in its last three CWS appearances, the Wolfpack are 3-5.

At least NC State got a chance to fight for its survival this year. In its last CWS appearance in 2021, NC State’s run got cut short as a COVID-19 outbreak on the team caused NCAA officials to disqualify the Wolfpack just before its elimination game against Vanderbilt.

Looking back, NC State’s final at-bats in both games really hurt its chances at winning, considering the Wolfpack put together some solid at-bats to get runners on base throughout both contests.

Against Kentucky, NC State left 12 runners on base and went 1-11 with runners in scoring position, but in its final at-bat in the top of the 10th inning, it went three up and three down for just the second time all game.

Almost the same thing happened against Florida in which the Wolfpack left eight runners on base while going 2-10 with runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the ninth when it just needed one run to stay alive, two straight strikeouts and a line out to left field closed the door shut.

For the Pack, they’ll end their season with a 38-23 overall record, which included a 16-7 run to end the year starting with the Ball State series in late April.

Trouble for UNC?

 

For UNC, the Vance Honeycutt postseason magic remained alive a bit longer.

With UNC and Virginia tied at two runs apiece in the bottom of the ninth inning, Honeycutt, going to the plate 0-4 in the game and facing two outs, just needed a single to left field to send Jackson Van De Brake home and clinch the 3-2 win in the CWS opener.

That was Honeycutt’s second walk-off hit of the NCAA tournament as he hit a walk-off home run to beat West Virginia in the super regional opener.

Honeycutt still did Honeycutt things in the following game against top-seeded Tennessee Sunday. But unfortunately for UNC, his solo home run in the top of the sixth inning was its only score.

A combination of UNC hitting woes and Tennessee’s pitching attack led by Drew Beam shut down the Tar Heels’ offensive production. Tennessee’s defense as a whole came up big to nix any momentum UNC built on the bases.

In just over five innings, Beam struck out seven batters, and pitchers Kirby Connell and Nate Snead finished it off with just one hit allowed in the final four innings. The Tar Heels only managed five hits the whole game. In games this season in which UNC has been limited to five or less hits, the Tar Heels are 1-4.

For UNC, it’s been a while since it’s been held to one run. The last time was April 9 when the Tar Heels fell to South Carolina, 2-1, in a game in which only recorded six hits.

For a team averaging around 10 hits a game, the Tar Heels are going to have to see an uptick in production at the plate if they want to keep their chances at a national title alive. In its last three games, UNC has batted .156, .273 and .167, respectively, which is not going to get it done at this point of the season.

Anna Harden

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