Shepard hit a two-out, two-run homer over the centerfield wall in the top of the ninth inning to give the Wolfpack a stunning, 5-4, come-from-behind victory over No. 4 TCU on Saturday at Lupton Stadium.
“On this big of a stage with that many people, for me to do that was just awesome,” Shepard said. “It is pretty cool. Obviously it is the best moment of my life.”
With the win, NC State will await the survivor of the loser’s bracket matchup between the Horned Frogs and Stony Brook, with first pitch in Ft. Worth set for 8:00 p.m. (EST).
“It was just great game by both teams,” NC State head coach Elliott Avent said. “You won’t find a better game than that in college baseball... both teams played their hearts out.”
The Wolfpack trailed, 1-0, after TCU’s Garrett Crain hit a dubious inside-the-park home run on a ball that was initially misplayed by Brock Deatherage in leftfield, who then followed with a throw that sailed high over the cutoff man and far wide of home plate.
NC State promptly responded in its half of the fourth. Ryne Willard doubled down the leftfield line to score Andrew Knizner and Bubby Riley, giving the Pack the lead. Joe Dunand later scored on a wild pitch to increase the lead to two runs.
Willard then attempted to score on Shepard’s grounder but was tagged out at home plate by TCU catcher Evan Skoug. After the tag, Skoug pushed Willard to the ground and tempers began to flare. Jake Fincher then grounded to third base and Shepard went hard into second baseman Garrett Crain and it was the Horned Frogs’ turn to feel aggrieved.
Both dugouts were poised to explode and Avent stormed out towards home plate when he felt TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle was yelling at one of his players. Avent gestured towards Schlossnagle but order was eventually restored. After the game, both sides shrugged off the disagreement.
“That is just good, hard baseball,” Schlossnagle said after. “College baseball needs more of that. Not dirty baseball, but more competitive, intense baseball.” The Horned Frogs would rally to retake the lead. A solo home run by Jeremie Fagnon in the bottom of the fourth and a RBI-single from Cody Jones in the sixth drove in Crain to tie the game. TCU was ahead once again in its half of the seventh when Crain followed up with a sacrifice fly to score Dane Steinhagen from third.
Travis Orwig (2-0) earned the victory in relief for the Wolfpack. The lefty closed out the game with two and two-thirds innings of one-hit ball. TCU closer Riley Ferrell (1-3) served up Shepard’s blast and took the loss.
Brian Brown started for the Pack and allowed four runs on five hits while fanning eight in six and one-thirds innings of work. He received a standing ovation when he was removed from the TCU fans, which had been vociferous throughout.
“As back and forth as that game was and as much emotion with them pulling for their ballclub, when Brian Brown came out of the game they gave him a standing ovation,” Avent said. “I thought that was pretty cool. A lot of class here in Texas.”