The NC State baseball team knew it had a tough week ahead of it with highly ranked Georgia Tech sitting on the horizon. Unfortunately, the week, and the Jackets, were very hard on Wolfpack.
NC State's two game out-of-conference road trip started off well against UNC-Greensboro. The Spartans walked nine Wolfpack batters and committed five errors. State took full advantage of the miscues by scoring 16 runs. Wolfpack starter Daryl Minugh, making his first start of the year, held the Spartans to 5 runs in as many innings. Mercifully for UNC-G, the game was called after the top of the fifth inning due to rain. Catcher Justin Riley had five RBIs for the Pack.
The NC State bats cooled off significantly in their next outing against Old Dominion. Nevertheless, the Wolfpack was in great position to win the game thanks to an excellent outing by starter Ryan Combs. Combs was perfect for the first four innings of the game and recorded eight strikeouts in more than seven innings of work. NC State held a 3 run lead in the bottom of the seventh, but ODU chipped away and eventually won the game in the bottom of the ninth, 5-4.
State came home to play the first game in their series against Georgia Tech, a team at least as good as the 8th ranked Demon Deacons the Wolfpack faced last week. The Pack played Georgia Tech close, but unfortunately could not pull out a win. Game one was a low-scoring affair. Derek McKee pitched eight innings for the Wolfpack, but surrendered six runs. The NC State offense tried to rally from a 6-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, cutting the lead in half. Tech used a crucial double play to stop the rally and end the game.
Games two and three in the series were played in a doubleheader on Saturday. Georgia Tech's offense unloaded on reliever Nate Cretarolo and beat the Wolfpack 20-12 in the first game. NC State had a 5-4 lead when starter Mike Prochaska was replaced in the sixth. After Cretarolo got the final out in the sixth, Tech responded with 12 runs in the top of the seventh, including a grand slam homerun. Nate Cretarolo and Kyle Stephenson were unable to make a single out for the Wolfpack; it took the aid of Brandon Shipwash to eventually end the inning. NC State scored 7 runs in the bottom of the ninth, but obviously it was too little too late. Game two, conversely, was a pitching duel that saw both starters go the distance. Nate Caldwell pitched very well for the Wolfpack and allowed just 3 runs. Tech's starter, Brian Burks, was even better. State was shutout—Tech completed the sweep with the 3-0 victory.
NC State (19-11, 1-5) finds itself in a hole that may only get deeper with top-ranked Clemson scheduled as their next conference opponent. It is important for NC State to continue to beat the non-conference opponents it faces between these difficult series. NC A&T comes to Doak this Tuesday, and Winthrop visits following the road trip to Clemson. And if the Pack has any hope of salvaging the conference season, it must start with the Tigers.