DURHAM, N.C.—Unable to hold a two-run lead in the sixth inning against Clemson, North Carolina State fell short in its improbable bid to reach the ACC tournament championship game when Clemson rallied for a 6-3 victory.
The loss, however, did little to dampen Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent’s enthusiasm for his team going forward. North Carolina State was on a six-game winning streak before losing 6-5 to Georgia Tech on a straight steal of home in the 15th inning Thursday. That loss, Avent said, was still affecting the Wolfpack’s relievers Saturday.
Lefthander Grant Sasser was unavailable, Avent said, and he was wary of going to closer Chris Overman in the sixth inning to face Clemson first baseman Richie Shaffer after Overman had pitched two innings against Georgia Tech. Instead, Nick Rice tried to pitch around Shaffer, but he hit a three-run home run that gave the Tigers their first lead of the day.
“Sasser couldn’t go and he’s tailor made for Clemson,” Avent said. “If Overman doesn’t have to go in the Georgia Tech game, then I would have gone with him in the sixth no question. The 15-inning game cost us a lot.”
North Carolina State entered the tournament with perhaps the least to play for. It was well out of the race for national seeds and hosting opportunities, but firmly a member of the at-large field. Still it upset Florida State on Wednesday and after the Seminoles beat Georgia Tech on Saturday morning, the Wolfpack would have played for the championship tomorrow if it could have held off Clemson.
“We were all sitting in the locker room cheering for Florida State,” third baseman Andrew Ciencin said. “I never thought I’d do that.”
Instead, Shaffer came up with the clutch hit that gave Clemson the lead and changed the complexion of the game.
North Carolina State is now left to focus on the NCAA tournament, where it hopes to do better than its two-and-out showing last year.
“We know our confidence is high right now,” Ciencin said. “We know we’re playing good ball. I think the little things, this year, are going to help us go further on in the tournament.”
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