RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina State found its offense in its opening game at the Raleigh Regional, routing an overmatched Sacred Heart squad 16-5.
The top-seeded Wolfpack came into the game looking to get its bats going after scoring just six runs in three games at the ACC tournament last week. The 'Pack matched that total by the end of the third inning Friday.
Fourth-seeded Sacred Heart scored twice in the top of the first against Wolfpack starter Vance Williams, but any thoughts of an upset were squashed quickly. Wolfpack sparkplug Trea Turner started the bottom of the first by pulling a ball down the left-field line for a double, and N.C. State kept the line moving from there. NCSU’s first five men reached to start the frame, highlighted by a titanic home run by DH Ryan Mathews, who turned around a Troy Scribner fastball and sent it deep beyond the left-field fence.
“(Mathews’ homer) picked the team up a little bit.” N.C. State head coach Elliot Avent said. “Not only the home run, but maybe how far he hit it. It was an absolute shot.”
Mathews’ long ball was his team-leading 15th of the season, and his power surge in the second half of the year has given the Wolfpack’s lineup some thump it lacked early on—no other NCSU hitter has more than six homers. But it was far from a one-man show on Friday. Eight of the Wolfpack’s starters had at least one hit, and eight of them scored at least one run, as they pounded out 14 hits and drew eight walks.
Amid the offensive fireworks, it was also a memorable night for the senior righthander Williams, a local product who grew up a Wolfpack fan and for whom getting the ball to start the opening game of a home regional was no small honor.
“This is kind of something you dream about,” Williams said. “Being on a big stage, the first game of a regional. I tried to slow the game. I got into a little bit of trouble in the first, but you just keep trying to slow it down.”
Williams came out a little too amped up in the first inning, bumping his fastball into the 90-91 mph range but walking and then beaning the first two hitters of the game. A two-out double by Hunter Phillips gave Sacred Heart its short-lived lead, but Williams settled in and found his command from there.
Able to hit his spots more effectively with his heater in the 86-88 mph range, he didn’t issue another walk and matched his career-highs for both innings (six) and strikeouts (eight), while giving up three runs on five hits. It was just Williams’ third start of the season and his first since March 13, but he’s not unaccustomed to being extended out of the bullpen, having logged 49 innings over 20 appearances on the year, and he gave the Wolfpack exactly what it needed on Friday.
Now, the Wolfpack has the regional set up the way it wants, with ace lefthander Carlos Rodon primed to take on second-seed Vanderbilt in the winners’ bracket showdown Saturday night. Sacred Heart will face No. 3 seed UNC Wilmington in an elimination game Saturday afternoon.
“They have a lot of weapons,” Sacred Heart head coach Nick Giaquinto said of the Wolfpack. “They play small ball well. They drive the ball. They put the bat on the ball. So they’re just a complete ballclub. Well coached. They execute what they need to execute and they’re very talented. I don’t think we’ve seen the likes of a team that talented this year.”