Columbia Regional: Sunday Notebook
Game One: NC State vs. Wofford
In the first elimination game of the tournament, NC State was fighting off embarrassment to a degree. As the questionable two seed, State fell to Charlotte in their first game. Losing to Wofford would only add insult to injury.
Clayton Shunick, a sophomore RHP from Alpharetta, GA, took to the hill for the Wolfpack, who were looking to stay in Columbia another night. Their opponents, the upstart Wofford Terriers, sent senior righty Austin Redwine to the mound.
Redwine, a North Carolina native, was shaky from the get go. If not for a double play and a caught stealing to end the inning, he'd have been struggling early.
The second inning would go much better for Redwine, but the third inning brought more sporadic control. Again Redwine was lucky to get out of the inning, this time giving up only one run. A single, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch had Redwine reeling again.
Wofford's leadoff man, Mike Gilmartin, homered to lead off the bottom half of the third and tie the score. With a chance to settle in, Redwine did just the opposite – he fell apart. NC State would score two more in the fourth, another in the fifth and then put the game away in the sixth.
Redwine would get knocked out early in the sixth after giving up a two run home run to Wolfpack LF Jeremy Synan. Charles Vartanian jogged in from the bullpen and gave up three hits, three earned runs and a walk before jogging right into the dugout for good.
The Terriers would answer the bell in the bottom of the sixth with four more of their own highlighted by a John Brandt two run home run to left center.
The damage had been done though and Wofford would get no closer. The SoCon Cinderella story finally saw their season end as NC State awaited their next opponent later in the night.
After the game, N.C. State Head Coach Elliott Avent said, "I thought we came to play. The thought of going home, even though it could make you play harder, it definitely doesn't make you rest any easier, especially as the visiting team when you don't get that last at bat."
Game Two: South Carolina vs. Charlotte
The winner's game pitted a national powerhouse against a scrappy and talented Charlotte squad looking for some much deserved respect.
Gamecock LHP Arik Hempy faced Charlotte's LHP Spencer Steedley in a test of brute force versus blinding speed.
The brute force would take over immediately as Gamecock lead off man, All-SEC 2B Travis Jones, would hit the first pitch of the game off the right center field fence. Two errors by the Niners third baseman and shortstop, allowed two unearned runs to score.
Travis Jones spectacular play continued into the bottom half of the first when he dove deep into the hole behind second base, grabbed a bullet and then popped back up to fire on to Justin Smoak.
Of the play, Coach Tanner said, "I was shocked at that play. I've seen him play all year but you're talking about a ball that was hit up the middle. It was a short hop that he had to dive for and then throw it against a guy who could really run."
In the bottom of the second inning the scrappy Charlotte squad scored one run on the timely hitting of Chris Lane. With the score now 2-1, South Carolina was about to unleash a tirade of muscle.
In the top of the third inning Justin Smoak, who is easily the tournament MVP to this point, hit his 21st home run of the season to dead center field.
"They have guys that can hit. Ya' know Smoak hits the (home run) to dead center that's a fastball down," said Charlotte Head Coach Loren Hibbs, "We haven't seen anybody all year that does that. He's a special guy."
Three more runs would score in the inning highlighted by the bat of Steven Reinhold who exploited the left center field gap and doubled in two.
With four more runs in and a 6 – 1 lead, the Gamecocks weren't finished. James Darnell drew a walk, Justin Smoak singled, Phil Disher singled, Trent Kline homered and then Andrew Crisp completed the back-to-back job with a home run to left. Now 11 – 1, perhaps the Gamecocks laid up a little, because Charlotte wasn't about to lie down.
"We've played a lot of good teams," said Coach Hibbs, "We haven't played anyone as physical as South Carolina."
In the bottom of the fourth, the Niners scored four runs on three hits while leaving one aboard.
Like the N.C. State onslaught in the afternoon's first game, a hard fought comeback would ultimately fall short.
Will Atwood came in to pitch three innings of effective baseball, but Charlotte would still not go away. In the bottom of the ninth inning they would score three more runs emphasized with a Brad McElroy home run to right field.
With a seven run lead cut to four, Ray Tanner decided to call on senior Curtis Johnson who recorded the last out. With the victory, the Gamecocks got to rest until tomorrow while the Niners needed to come right back out and play N.C. State to see who got to play again on Sunday.
After four home runs in each of the first two games, we should have all known the third game was going to bring even more than that.
Game Three: Charlotte vs NC State
After a scoreless first inning, the fireworks got going quickly. What looked to be a one-sided pasting turned into a rollercoaster ride of anxiety for everyone.
Charlotte struck first with a huge second inning. A leadoff home run by Chris Taylor was followed up by a collection of singles and doubles before catcher Kris Rochelle would leave the yard. When the top of the second inning ended, it was 7 – 0 Charlotte.
Charlotte would strike again in the top of the third on a Cory Lane single that scored Spencer Steedley.
Behind 8 – 0 after two and a half, it would have been easy for N.C. State to roll over and think about the trip home. ACC teams don't roll over though, so the Wolfpack came back strong in their half of the third.
Two singles to lead off the inning followed by two doubles and a passed ball had N.C. State fans out of their seats. After finally getting an out, Ryan Pond would double – State's third of the inning. An eight run deficit was cut in half, but only for a moment.
Charlotte scored two more times on Chris Taylor's first of two home runs. The ‘Pack's hard work was cut in half as Charlotte extended the four run lead back to six.
Taylor said about his two home runs, "I struggled a little in the first game, so I came back in the second game, ya' know wantin' to see a ball up in the zone. I got a fastball in my first at bat. It was out over the plate a little bit so I took it to right field. I didn't try to pull anything. In the third at bat, he started me with a breaking ball so I was looking for that fastball again and I got it."
Behind 10 – 4 after four innings, N.C. State had another opportunity to roll over, but they refused. Ryan Pond hit a solo home run and Caleb Mangum hit a two run homer later in the inning. Anxiety, frustration, and tension settled in amongst all at Sarge Frye Field. An eight nothing blowout was now a 10 – 7 barnburner.
Desperate to finally put their opponents away, Charlotte tacked on an insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single by Kris Rochelle. They'd score yet another in the eighth on a Brad McElroy RBI double.
Now 12 – 7 with only six outs left, Charlotte presumably assumed N.C. State couldn't take their relentless pressure. On the contrary though as N.C. State would get three more on a three run home run delivered by Mike Roskopf.
The stage was set for some ninth inning thunder. In all, the game had six home runs, 29 hits, 6 errors, six different pitchers and 332 pitches. There would be no thunder though. With both teams physically exhausted, the ninth inning came and went quietly, leaving only Charlotte to play the host Gamecocks Monday at 4 pm.
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