Late Rally Pulls Pack Past Pirates, 3-2

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Pat Ferguson went 3-4 and the Wolfpack bullpen fired 3 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball as the Wolfpack downed the Pirates 3-2 on Wednesday night at Doak Field.

For seven innings, the NC State offense was lifeless. Despite playing against an arch rival in front of a raucous sell-out crowd, the Wolfpack had managed just three hits and hadn't put a runner past second base all evening. The East Carolina fans, many of whom made the trip to Doak Field, let the Pack players know about it.

"I got sick of hearing 'one up, one down,'" catcher Caleb Mangum said. "We couldn't get anything going."

But the energy finally seemed to rub off in the eighth. With the Pack (23-8) trailing 2-0, Joe Florio got the inning started by taking a fastball to the ribcage, reaching base for the third time on the evening. Ramon Corona followed by coaxing his fourth walk of the night, and Marcus Jones successfully bunted both runners over.

Ryan Pond put the first run on the board for the Pack, hitting a ground ball deep to shortstop to plate Florio. Pat Ferguson followed with his third hit of the evening to drive home Corona. A wild pitch moved Ferguson to second, and Caleb Mangum promptly delivered the go-ahead shot with a single to left field to give the No. 22 Pack a 3-2 lead over No. 21 East Carolina (21-9) heading into the ninth.

"I got chill bumps coming across the field when the inning was over, that place was rocking and rolling," Mangum said. "But I didn't hear [the Pirates fans] talking much towards the end of the game."

Elliot Avent then brought in closer Eryk McConnell to finish off the Pirates, but move left-handed pitcher Andrew Taylor over to left field instead of taking him out of the game. After McConnell struck out the first East Carolina batter, Avent brought in Taylor to pitch to the left-handed batter. It's the second time this year Avent has used the inventive tactic in a game.

The shuffling didn't work this time though, as Taylor promptly walked his man to put the tying run on base. But McConnell came back into the game and coaxed a double-play grounder to send the sell-out crowd home happy.

"[Going to left] doesn't affect me really, I just go out there and throw strikes and do what I do when I come back in," McConnell said. "I'm hoping they hit me a ball, I'll make a play. Hit one to the wall and let me climb the wall out [in left]."

The final double play was one of four turned by the Pack on the night, as defense and pitching kept the Pirates off the board. Starting pitcher Nate Karns allowed two runs on two solo home runs and four Wolfpack relievers combined for 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work.

"Our pitchers pitched really well and if they get in a little trouble we seem to really buckle down and get a big defensive play," Ferguson said. "Our pitching has been phenomenal all year."

Ferguson led the way for the Pack with a 3-4 night, hitting three singles including the game-tying hit just past the reach of East Carolina's short stop.

"They left a few pitches over the plate for me," Ferguson said. "I just ran into a few."

The Pirates started the scoring off in the fourth inning with a solo home run from leadoff hitter Harrison Eldridge. Karns got behind in the count 3-1 and Eldridge took advantage, powering a deep drive to center.

Things got even worse for the freshman righty in the fifth inning, as Brandon Henderson took a fastball over the left field wall to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Karns followed the hit with two straight walks, prompting Avent to bring in lefty Jake Kensmoe. The freshman got the job done, coaxing an inning-ending double play to keep the deficit at two.

NC State plays host to No. 1 Florida State this weekend at Doak Field. The first game of the series is scheduled for Friday night but could be moved up to the afternoon depending on weather.

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