Top Story, Spring

NC State Shuts Down Birdball in ACC Tournament Loss

After suffering a sweep in the regular season, NC State rebounded with a 6-1 win against Boston College baseball in game one of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday afternoon.

The seventh-seeded Wolfpack jumped out to an early lead against Eagles (25-27) ace Jacob Stevens. Stephen Pitarra knocked an opposite-field hit to right to open the game, and a subsequent hit and run put two men on with nobody out. Brad Debo loaded the bases for cleanup man Joe Dunand with a bloop single to left.

After Stevens struck out the NC State (34-22) slugger, Brett Kinneman hit a high chopper back to the pitcher that scored Pitarra from third. The next batter, Will Wilson, floated a bloop single into right field that drove in two more runs and gave the ’Pack a 3-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Johnny Piedmonte stayed perfect for NC State on the mound. The Wolfpack ace improved to 7-0 by tossing five innings of one-run ball. The first five frames were a breeze for Piedmonte, who kept BC’s bats silent on just 55 pitches.

But in the sixth, Piedmonte ran into some trouble. Jake Palomaki led off the inning with a bunt single, and he advanced to third after Mendoza booted a ground ball off the bat of Donovan Casey. The Eagles’ left fielder-turned-closer then swiped his 13th bag of the year to put two runners in scoring position for Michael Strem. After he drew a walk, cleanup hitter Gian Martellini grounded into a double play that scored Palomaki from third, but effectively ended the threat for the Birds. Mitch Bigras eventually popped out, as NC State limited the damage to just one run and maintained a 3-1 lead.

“I like what we’re doing offensively,” head coach Mike Gambino said in between innings. He pointed to the fact that the ’Pack hadn’t hit many balls hard against Stevens, and expressed his optimism for the final innings. But not even the most clever small ball could overcome a big seventh inning that padded the lead for NC State.

John Witkowski, who relieved Stevens after four strong innings, had been mowing down the ’Pack lineup until they mounted a two-out rally in the seventh. After a groundout and a strikeout, Witkowski surrendered a base hit up the middle and a walk to put two men on for Kinneman. The big lefty blasted a three-run shot over the right-field fence to extend NC State’s lead to 6-1.

The Eagles showed some life in the ninth, as they loaded the bases off of a walk, double, and hit by pitch. But any chance of a comeback were squashed when a flyout ended the game, and as a result, their odds of advancing in their ACC Tournament pool. BC will face North Carolina tomorrow at 3:00 EST.

The loss puts Birdball in a tough position, but it’s really a miracle that the team is there in the first place. After beginning the conference slate 1-14, with the lone victory coming on opening night against Florida State, the Eagles were considered longshots to make the ACC Tournament. Nevertheless, even with an injury-depleted roster, they won 10 of their last 15 games to make the Tournament and extend their season. Unfortunately, it’s looking like they’ve stretched their postseason run as far as it’s going to get.

Featured Image by Jake Catania / Heights Staff

May 23, 2017