In many ways it seemed NC State was in a race against time, only in reverse.
The Wolfpack, lacking pitchers due to injury and a head coach due to suspension, were confronting a team in Coastal Carolina that had a closer that was unhittable but needed rest.
The weather delay provided the break Chanticleer closer Michael Morrison needed, and in the process broke NC State’s rhythm. The Wolfpack bullpen could not get the final out it needed, falling one strike short, and once again enters the offseason proud of its accomplishments but slightly scarred at how the end came about.
At its core, baseball is a game of failure. The ending is almost always going to be sad.
The ending of the past five seasons, however, have been particularly harsh on the Wolfpack. The rain in Gainesville was followed by the near-homer in Omaha off the bat of Trea Turner. Then came Turner’s brilliant steal of home that was in turn stolen from him by an inexplicable out call.
The past two seasons have seen NC State come remarkably close to clinching a berth to the Super Regionals only to lose after leading late.
NC State is left in the tough position of dealing with the hardship of excruciating loss while trying not to forget the wonderful moments that put the team on the precipice.
In the Raleigh Regional, the Wolfpack used back-to-back pitching gems from Johnny Piedmonte and Will Gilbert (in relief) to set up the championship game showdown with Coastal Carolina.
Yet when the end came suddenly.
With the coming offseason, NC State and its fans can wonder what might have been yet also accept that to a degree the baseball program is at a level that should be commended.
There are things left on the table for the Wolfpack to achieve, with an ACC title being a glaring omission. NC State also has the wherewithal to win a national title.
NC State head coach Elliott Avent, forced out of the dugout for the loss to Coastal Carolina, turned 60 years old this past season. Should his health permit, he has several years ahead of him to guide the Wolfpack.
The sports world is littered with teams that won championships after years of coming agonizingly close. The next few years NC State has an opportunity to use its experience to shape the character and prod future teams to take the final few steps.
The alternative is to let the painful endings define the baseball program and become its perpetual narrative—an argument some insist is already true.
In terms of the immediate future, not feeling sorry for itself might be the hardest part. The program can either push on or let the bitterness consume them.
A narrative will be written one way or another. NC State, however, is still in control of what it will say.