RALEIGH, N.C.—For the second straight night, North Carolina State opened up a lead on Vanderbilt. And for the second straight night, the Commodores stormed back. The story had a different ending this time, though.
After Vanderbilt had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game, Wolfpack second baseman Matt Bergquist’s RBI single in the bottom of the eighth put N.C. State back in front and reliever Ryan Wilkins made it stand up for a 6-5 win, forcing a decisive seventh game in the Raleigh Regional on Monday night.
Vanderbilt’s resilience has been on full display the last two nights—the resilience that helped it recover from a 7-15 start to make regionals and then pull out a stirring 9-8 win against the Wolfpack on Saturday after falling behind by five runs. But the Wolfpack showed plenty of fortitude of its own on Sunday, putting the emotion of Saturday’s loss behind it by first pounding out 17 runs in the afternoon elimination game against UNC Wilmington and then by pulling out a pulse-pounding win of its own against Vandy in the nightcap.
“To go through what we went through last night and have a 5-1 lead,” N.C. State head coach Elliot Avent said. “A couple things happen and here they come again. I just go back to the resiliency and toughness of this ballclub. They found ways to get it done. They want it. They know nobody’s going to give it to them, they have to take it.”
Bergquist’s winning hit capped off a storybook day. The junior came into the year as the Wolfpack’s starting second baseman but saw his playing time challenged by freshman Logan Ratledge and then had to fight through a midseason ankle injury. He also entered Sunday’s games batting just .197, but all the frustrations of the regular season seem like a distant memory now.
Bergquist’s effort against UNCW would‘ve made for a career day on its own. He went 3-for-5 with six RBIs against the Seahawks, then added two more hits against Vandy.
He hit his first homer of the season in the afternoon game, but his biggest hit of the day didn’t go nearly so far. With men on first and second and one out in the eighth, Berguist poked an opposite-field single into right field off hard-throwing Vandy reliever Drew VerHagen, bringing home his seventh RBI of the two games. All in a day’s work.
“All year, they’ve been trying to get me to go the other way,” Bergquist said. “I guess I finally did it.”
The Wolfpack hasn’t lacked for offense throughout the regional, and it built its 5-1 lead on the strength of homers by DH Ryan Mathews, his third of the tournament, and third baseman Trea Turner, both off Vanderbilt starter Kevin Ziomek, who was chased in the fourth.
The game also provided some measure of redemption for Wolfpack starter Anthony Tzamtzis. The redshirt sophomore had battled blister issues and had run up a 7.82 ERA over his previous four starts. But he held Vanderbilt in check for the first five innings, mixing his mostly 89-91 mph fastball with a slider and changeup.
But the Commodores started building momentum with two runs in the sixth, and the snowball kept rolling downhill in the seventh as they tied the game on Anthony Gomez’s RBI double, ending Tzamtzis’ night.
“I felt like we were going to come back and win the ballgame,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Didn’t work out that way at the end. But I think everyone inside the dugout felt like we were going to get ourselves back in the game. We just needed to get a little bit of momentum.”
In the top of the eighth of a 5-5 game, the Commodores got a runner to second with one out, and an air of inevitability seemed to settle over Doak Field. But then Wilkins got Vandy’s Connor Harrell to hit a bouncer to Turner at third base. Turner threw Harrell out, but when Spencer Navin, the runner on second, tried to advance on the throw, first baseman Andrew Ciencin fired back across the diamond to cut Navin down.
“That was a huge play by Ciencin,” Turner said. “He picked it and made a good throw to me. So I’d put that all on him.”
The unconventional 5-3-5 double play reinvigorated the park, giving the Wolfpack a sorely needed injection of momentum of its own. It staged its winning rally moments later.
Now, both teams have to do the same thing they did after Saturday’s game—turn the page after an emotional night. Neither coach would commit to a starting pitcher for Monday’s winner-take-all game, though the most likely candidates are a pair of freshmen, Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede and N.C. State’s Logan Jernigan, both of whom have spent most of the season in their teams’ weekend rotations but were displaced down the stretch.
But no matter who starts Monday‘s game, if these two teams have taught us anything, the finish promises to be worth watching.