NC State improves to 31-19 overall and 15-13 in the conference. Louisville falls to 41-14, 24-5 in the league with the loss.
The victory, coupled with North Carolina’s home loss to Virginia on Friday, clinches a top-six finish in the ACC standings for the Wolfpack and NC State will move directly into pool play in next week’s ACC Tournament in Durham.
“This club plays their best when it is on the line,” NC State head coach Elliott Avent said. “This club has actually played very well late in games. Probably the only person that was tense was me.”
Brian Brown (6-3) picked up the win for the Wolfpack. The lefty went five and one-third innings, striking out seven while walking four. Tommy DeJuneas stepped on to the mound with one out in the ninth inning after beginning the game in leftfield. After allowing a two-RBI single on his first pitch to Louisville’s Zach Lucas, the right-hander got the next two batters out to pick up his sixth save of the season.
“I like being in that situation,” DeJuneas said of the late-inning scare. “I felt calm and I trusted my stuff. I have been in a couple one-run games with the same situation and guys on base.”
Ratledge blasted a 1-2 pitch off the leftfield wall--inches away from a home run--to drive in Bubby Riley and Jake Fincher in the bottom of the third and give NC State a lead it would not relinquish. Riley reached base earlier on a sharply hit single to lead off the frame. With one out, Jake Fincher got aboard on a throwing error. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch before Ratledge ripped the seventh pitch of the at-bat to drive them home.
“I just knew with two strikes, in that situation, I just had to put the ball in play,” Ratledge said. “I was lucky he left one out over the plate a little bit.”
Last season, NC State did not reach pool play of the ACC Tournament and lost to North Carolina in a hotly contested game that ultimately kept the Wolfpack out of the NCAA Tournament.
While it is not clear yet how clinching a berth into pool play will affect NC State tactically on Saturday in the regular season finale, Avent was thrilled to avoid the ‘play-in’ game this season. “You don’t want to play in that play-in game,” Avent said. “We played in that game last year and we thought it cost us. So now with a top-six (finish in conference), you think then you have also clinched a regional bid.”