GREENSBORO, N.C.—It's easy to see why Eilliott Avent has so much affection for his 2012 team. Sure, winning breeds happiness for coaches, and North Carolina State is 39-15.
But this Wolfpack team has a certain character that makes Avent gush above and beyond the standard praise a coach has for his winning team. That makeup was on display Wednesday against Miami, when ace Eric Erickson and the Miami bullpen frustrated the 'Pack for eight innings, but N.C. State hung around and strung together five straight quality at-bats in the ninth to push across two runs and win 3-2.
"I'm just so proud of our guys," Avent said. "Wow, the lefty, Erickson, he's been good in this league for a long time, he was really, really good today—we knew we'd have trouble scoring off him. He was as good as I'd seen him. We just battled and battled and battled. And thank goodness for Ethan Ogburn. Ethan was just unbelievable today. He gave us a chance, that's what you have to do against a guy like Erickson."
The two starting pitchers mixed speeds and locations effectively to keep the game scoreless through five innings. Ogburn, who also pitched well in defeat last week at Florida State, spotted his 86-87 mph fastball and kept hitters off balance with his mid-70s curve and 80-82 cutter. The Hurricanes got to him for a pair of runs in the sixth, as Chantz Mack launched his first homer of the year, then chased him in the seventh.
But reliever Vance Williams escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in that frame for the Wolfpack, recording back-to-back strikeouts to strand all three runners. Williams, like many N.C. State players, has made a habit of coming through in spots like that this year.
"He's just pitched his butt off all year," Avent said of Williams.
The Pack seemed to snatch the momentum at that point, and it built in the top of the ninth, when right fielder Ryan Mathews gunned down Mack at the plate.
Still, N.C. State trailed 2-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Brett Austin kickstarted the rally with a one-out single, and pinch-hitter John Gianis followed with another single to put runners on the corners. This was a team win, and Gianis is a consummate teammate who finds ways to contribute however he can.
"Really proud of the base hit by John Gianis," Avent said. "That young man works harder than anybody. He's a workaholic—he loves this team.
"We've got two or three guys that the opportunities have not come as much as they've wanted or maybe even as much as they've deserved with their work ethic, but that's the way it happens in the game. But that guy has been the best teammate through this run."
The Hurricanes called upon deposed closer E.J. Encinosa to put out the fire. Miami coach Jim Morris said Encinosa has pitched much better in recent weeks in a middle relief role, but his command was erratic Wednesday, and the opportunistic Wolfpack took advantage. He walked Trea Turner to load the bases, then gave up a high chopper on an 0-2 pitch to Chris Diaz for an infield single that tied the game. The next hitter, Mathews, walked on five pitches to force in the winning run.
North Carolina State just seemed like the more poised, confident team with the game on the line.
"People's focus just turns up, and the pressure kind of settles down almost for us," captain Andrew Ciencin said of N.C. State's ability to handle late-inning situations. "We kind of just get into a mode where we know we're going to win."
Ciencin, a senior who has been an indispensable leader for the 'Pack, embodies the qualities that make this team successful.
"I'm just so proud of our team. They've just been so consistent this year," Avent said. "And somewhere along the line they learned a little toughness too. That's why I'm so proud of them. I'm just happy to share the dugout with them."
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