The NC State closer had a 0.80 ERA and had converted eight of nine save opportunities at the start of the day Saturday. McConnell entered the game in the eighth inning with the Pack up 3-2 and six outs away from its second straight win over North Carolina.
Two runs, three hits and no outs later, McConnell walked off the mound as Elliot Avent pulled his closer for the first time all season. The game went downhill quickly after McConnell's exit, as Carolina continued to pour in run after run. By the time it was all said and done, the Tar Heels walked out of Doak Field with a series tying 9-3 win.
"We have one of the best bullpen guys in the country in Eryk McConnell, he was rested and that's his game," Avent said. "Give them a lot of credit, he didn't come in there walking people - they got some hits. You can't be too upset about that."
Andrew Taylor followed McConnell in the eighth, and gave up three more runs without recording an out. Kyle Rutter and Jake Kensmoe finally stopped the bleeding, finishing the inning but not before Carolina put a six spot on the scoreboard.
The bullpen blow-up wasted one of Andrew Brackman's best pitching performances of the season, as the big righty gave up just two runs on three hits. He walked four and struck out seven but was pulled after seven innings and 97 pitches.
"I probably could have [gone out for another inning," Brackman said. "But those guys, Taylor and McConnell, they've been our guys. I wouldn't change anything, I would have sent them both back out there."
Opposing pitcher Alex White was almost as good as Brackman, going 6 2/3 innings, giving up four hits and three runs while striking out a career-high 11 batters. Carolina reliever Rob Catapano (1-1) got the win, while McConnell (2-2) picked up the loss.
Reid Fronk started the scoring in the top of the first, hitting the second pitch from Brackman over the scoreboard in left-center. Fronk hit the ball the other way and didn't appear to hit it with much authority, but the wind got under the ball and it carried well over the fence. The shot seemed to light a fire under the junior, who went on to strike out five of the next six batters he faced.
"It didn't start off the way I wanted it to," Brackman said. "Other than that I thought it went pretty well."
The Wolfpack evened the score in the bottom of the second inning thanks to a fit of wildness from Carolina starter Alex White. The righty walked Ramon Corona, gave up a single to Pat Ferguson then walked Marcus Jones to load the bases. With two away and Drew Martin at the plate, White threw a wild pitch that brought home Corona to knot the score at one.
The two pitchers combined for three innings of scoreless baseball until Carolina re-took the lead in the sixth. With a runner on third and one out, Josh Horton hit a sharp ground ball to second baseman Dallas Poulk. Poulk tried to make an off-balance throw home, but the throw sailed high allowing Ackley to score and giving the Heels a 2-1 lead.
But the Pack wasted no time striking back, putting up two runs in the bottom of a wild sixth inning to take the lead. Caleb Mangum started off the action with a single into left, and Jeremy Synan delivered the game-tying hit with a triple into the gap in right center. One batter later, White hit right fielder Ryan Pond, resulting in the exchange of a few choice words. The benches didn't clear, but tempers did escalate a bit and Avent got into a heated argument with and Carolina assistant Scott Forbes before cooler heads prevailed.
After Pat Ferguson struck out to leave runners on the corners and two away, Marcus Jones delivered a near-perfect bunt down the third-base line. Chad Flack tried to make a bare-hand attempt but couldn't get a grip on the ball allowing Synan to score from third and give the Pack a 3-2 advantage before the game fell apart in the eighth.
"I've been here for 11 years and this has been a fabulous series," Avent said. "I don't remember a boring series yet."