For a team that has battled tough opposition closely all season but has suffered through tough luck, the resilience shown in the twin bill impressed NC State head coach Elliott Avent.
“How they have hung through this streak, I have no idea,” Avent said. ‘Coming into today, we’d lost nine of the last 12 and [several] one-run games and that can be devastating. I just admire how they have hung in every game and have never once given in or never once given up and to get a reward like this is something they richly deserve.”
After scoring three runs in the first inning in the opener, NC State went hitless until Riley came off the bench to rip a pinch-hit, two-out home run over the wall in center to hand NC State a, 4-3, win in the opener of the twin bill. It was the Wolfpack’s first walk-off victory since defeating Rice in the 2013 Super Regional on June 8, 2013.
The Wolfpack would not have to wait nearly as long for the next one.
Dunand ripped a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall in the bottom of the 10th to hand NC State a, 5-3, win and a sweep on the afternoon.
“I saw the fastball in the zone, Dunand said afterwards. “I put a good swing on it and it just kept going and went out. That was my first walk-off home run in my life.”
“Two walk-off home runs in one day,” Riley added of NC State’s heroics. “That’s definitely been the most exciting day in baseball of my life. No question. ”
It appeared that NC State would ease past the Cavaliers in the first game. Two-out, RBI doubles from Andrew Knizner and Joe Dunand gave the Pack a three-run advantage.
Virginia starter Brandon Waddell settled down and ultimately pitched seven innings, allowing only the three runs on four hits yielded in the first frame. He struck out eight and walked three.
The Cavaliers fought back, scoring two runs the top of the fifth inning as NC State starting pitcher Cory Wilder struggled with his control. Wilder walked five batters in four-plus innings. Virginia ultimately tied the game in its half of the seventh off reliever Curt Britt.
All of that set up Riley for his heroics in the bottom of the ninth. Entering the pinch-hitting appearance, the senior was batting .217 and had yet to homer this season. NC State entered the doubleheader with losses in nine of its last 12 games.
“We just come to the field with the same mentality everyday,” Riley said. “Just go out there, play hard, and whatever happens happens. Put the bad days behind you, and look ahead. I was ahead 2-0, and I just told myself, ‘If you get this fastball, you can handle it. You better not miss it.’ Luckily, I got it and didn’t miss it.”
Riley’s blast came off of reliever Tommy Doyle (1-1). Will Gilbert (1-1) pitched the final three innings. The left-hander gave up only one hit while fanning four to pick up his first victory of the season.
In the second contest, NC State opening the scoring in its half of the third. Logan Ratledge reached via a base on balls. Preston Palmeiro then blasted a two-run homer over the the right field wall for his fifth home run of the season.
However, Virginia took the lead in the top of the fifth inning. After leading off the frame with a double, Robbie Coman scored on a wild pitch from Joe O’Donnell. Two batters later, Ernie Clement plated Joe McCarthy with a RBI-single into center. Clement then scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Matt Thaiss to give the Cavaliers the advantage.
State tied the game in the bottom half of the eighth. Riley and Ryne Willard led off with back-to-back singles. A sacrifice bunt by Shane Shepard pushed both runners into scoring position. Two batters later, Jake Fincher walked to load the bases. Jake Armstrong, pinch-hitting for Brock Deatherage, walked to push Riley across for the equalizing run.
After Willard led off the bottom of the 10th with a single, Dunand launched the game-winner, his fifth homer of the season, over the left-field fence two batters later to seal the sweep and the series win.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Avent believes the best is ahead for NC State.
“We are an NCAA tournament team,” Avent said. “Whether that happens, sometimes it’s out of your control. It was out of control last year, and it didn’t happen though we thought it should have. But this is definitely an NCAA tournament team.”