But Ryan Pond wasn't going to let this game escape from the Wolfpack. After working the count full, Pond roped a double down the third-base line to score Chris Schaeffer and Tommy Foschi to put the Pack ahead for good on Friday night at Doak Field on the first day of the NCAA tournament regionals. The Pack would add two more runs in the eight to give it a 6-2 victory over the No. 4 seeded Dukes.
"That guy made me look foolish the at-bat before and I kind of had an idea of what he was gonna do to me," Pond said. "I worked it to 3-2 and I figured he wouldn't come with a fastball with a base open. I got the breaking ball and just put it a good swing on it and was fortunate to get it down the line."
The win snaps a three-year losing streak for the Pack on opening day in the regionals, and puts No 1. seed State into the winners bracket of the Raleigh Regional. They'll play No. 2 seed South Carolina on Saturday night at 7pm after the Gamecocks took down UNC Charlotte by a 15-8 score earlier in the day. The Pack is expected to start right-hander Clayton Shunick, who is 7-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 89 innings pitched.
Joey Cutler (5-0), who relieved starter Jake Buchanan in the sixth inning, picked up the win with by working the final 3 1/3 innings of perfect baseball. Trevor Knight (7-3) took the loss for James Madison.
"Joey came in and had a lot of life on the fastball," head coach Elliot Avent said. "He was just outstanding."
The Pack scratched across its first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning. Dallas Poulk led off the inning with a walk and moved to third on a Matt Payne double. The second baseman scored thanks to a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jeremy Synan. The ball looked like it might split the gap in right center but hung up long enough to allow the JMU right fielder Brett Sellers to haul it in on the run.
But the Dukes answered right back in the top of the second, as a lead-off walk once again came around to score. First baseman Steven Careses walked to start the inning and would come around to score after a ringing double off the left-field wall from McKinnon Langston. Drew Martin, who hit just two home runs all season, led off the third inning with a line-drive shot over the left field wall to put the Pack back on top 2-1.
"I was just staying with my two-strike approach of trying to hit it hard and to the opposite field," Martin said. "He threw a breaking ball and I just reacted into it and got a hold of it."
From there both starting pitchers cruised, especially Buchanan. For a stretch that spanned from the end of the second inning to the sixth, the freshman retired 10 straight batters without a hitter getting the ball out of the infield.
"I just tried to do what I've been doing all year," Buchanan said. "Go after batters, work ahead and try not to get myself into too much trouble."
But he ran into trouble in the sixth, allowing a lead-off single to ninth-place hitter David Herbek. The shortstop scored to tie the game when Joe Lake slapped a double down the right field line, prompting Avent to remove the freshman and put in Cutler.
Pond's two-out double put the Pack ahead 4-2 in the seventh, and State picked up two more runs in the eighth. Schaeffer hit a two-run shot over the left field wall to make it a four-run deficit for the Dukes and send the sell-out crowd at Doak into a frenzy.
"I think you could have heard them all the way down to Avent Ferry," Avent said.