Visiting The Piedmonte
NC State pitching coach Scott Foxhall walked slowly to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning to sounds of discontent. Johnny Piedmonte then walked slowly to the dugout to the sound of appreciation.
Piedmonte got the start in NC State’s biggest game of the season and the tall right-hander, with plenty of help from the bats of his teammates, came through when the Wolfpack needed him the most.
However, there was the matter of the final out of the game.
With his pitch well over 100 after eight innings, Piedmonte was able to coax Foxhall and NC State head coach Elliot Avent into letting him go out for the ninth in an attempt to complete the game.
“He wanted to take me out after eight, but I really wanted the ninth,” Piedmonte said. “He said that with the high pitch count, if I got in trouble I was probably coming out, but I understood why he did it.”
That is exactly what happened. The righty was able to get the first two outs but could not quite close the game out. With his pitch count at 125, Foxhall made the move to the mound and summoned relief from the bullpen. The crowd at Doak Field was visibly annoyed.
“[Foxhall] said my pitch count was getting a little high. I think I ended up around ,” Piedmonte said. “He wanted me to enjoy the moment and walk slow off the field. Yeah, he took the hit on that, but I was happy I went out like that.”
Foxhall correctly sensed that the boos would turn to cheers as Piedmonte began his walk back to the dugout. He was so well-received that a curtain call, a rare event at Doak Field, was in order.
“Some of the guys told me to go back out there and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that since I’ve been here,” Piedmonte said of his curtain call. “It is one of the best feelings I’ve had at NC State and I was just taking in the moment.”
The final line for Piedmonte was six hits and one earned allowed while striking out seven (tied for a career-high) in a career-best 8 2/3 innings of work.
It was only his eight start of the campaign and his first victory, but Piedmonte sensed he was would do well in NC State’s biggest game of the season based on his last time on the mound, when he struck out the side to close out the Wolfpack’s win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Baseball Championship—a victory that likely clinched a spot as a regional host in the NCAA Tournament.
“I had some momentum coming into this outing,” Piedmonte said. “My outing against Georgia Tech, I had some of the stuff I had last year with my fastball location and my breaking ball, so I had a lot of confidence going into the start and I wanted to save the bullpen and give it everything I had.
“I wanted to get ahead of the hitters and put my fastball where I wanted to.”
Because of Piedmonte’s performance, NC State has the potential for more special moments and performances along with another curtain call on Monday.
A Navy Salute
NC State’s win over Navy Sunday sent the Midshipmen home but not before the team received some much deserved plaudits.
Navy lost twice the Wolfpack during the weekend. However, in-between came a, 8-5, extra-inning victory over St. Mary’s on Saturday. It was the Midshipmen’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2002 and the program’s second since 1982.
After vanquishing Navy with ease on Sunday, NC State next began to focus on its rematch with Coastal Carolina. Avent, however, was not ready to close the chapter on Navy and heaped high praise for its players.
“I’d like to talk about the men that just left here right now,” Avent said. “I think it’s maybe 1.5 percent that serves our country so the other 98.5 percent of us can walk around and riot and complain and act like we’ve got a bad life. I’d like to salute not only what they do for our country but how they played this weekend. That [Navy baseball] is really a class act that just walked off this stage.”
Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos, who thanked the NC State staff that hosted the Regional profusely as he left the podium after speaking with the media, saw nothing but glory in his team’s effort and performance despite the loss.
“I’ve told the guys that I have nothing but good things to say about them,” Kostacopoulos said. “We have good things to say about our kids and our programs. We are nothing but proud to represent the United States Naval Academy.”
It took Coastal Carolina two days but the Chanticleers finally closed out a, 4-0, win over NC State Sunday afternoon.
Now the two schools will meet again on Monday at 1 p.m. with a second game, should NC State win, coming at 6 p.m.
“That was a very hard fought game all night last night and again this morning,” Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore said. ‘I couldn’t be prouder of that group of kids in my dugout. They were fantastic all night long and just competed their hearts out.”
In Gilmore’s mind, there are no advantages for his team and both Coastal Carolina and NC State have plenty of work ahead.
“Elliot [Avent] and I have been friends for 20-some years,” Gilmore said. “Those guys are going to give us all we want and more. They are going to come to pay and compete. It doesn’t matter where you are at with pitching at that point. Everyone is pretty much on fumes.”
That Championship Feeling
With the Golden State Warriors closing in on a second straight NBA title and the San Jose Sharks battling for the Stanley Cup, Northern California has the championship feeling, but it is not limited to professional sports.
St. Mary’s, located in Moranga, California (eight miles from Oakland, 17 miles from San Francisco) won the West Coast Conference title this season in baseball and reached the postseason for the first time in school history.
Although the Gaels were eliminated in two games, the vibe that comes from success in the Bay Area has extended to the baseball program and St. Mary’s head coach Erik Valenzuela thinks it will endure.
“We are excited to be here,” Valenzuela said. “This is the first time in our program’s history that we get to play in a Regional. To be shipped out the furthest east that we can go is really exciting for our program and our fans, community, alumni and we think we brought a great product to Raleigh.
“There is a lot of buzz in the Bay Area going on.” Valenzuela added. “We are the only North California school in a NCAA Regional which is crazy to think…it is an exciting time for us.”