N.C. State sets stage for key clash with UNC in ACC tourney

DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina State (44-13) beat Miami (35-23) 7-1 on Friday, ensuring that the Wolfpack and North Carolina’s game on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. will decide who advances to the ACC championship game.

It’s crazy to think that this same N.C. State team started out the season 19-10, with losses to UNC-Greensboro and Elon. That was their record as of March 31. But since the start of April, N.C. State is 25-3.

When a team is playing that well, there’s always at least a little luck involved, and there was on Friday too. N.C. State scored its first five runs with two outs, including four in the second inning, and none of their hits in the second got out of the infield. Miami made some mistakes, including an error, in that frame.

“Even though we didn’t get a ball out of the infield and got four runs, it wasn’t like luck,” N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent said. “If you look at the scouting report for N.C. State, at the top of the scouting report, it’s going to say ‘speed.’ And speed is there every day…. that’s what we do. It’s tough for other teams to try to contain.”

But N.C. State was able to advance on the base paths and take advantage of those mistakes because of its speed, and they’re certainly not going to apologize for that.

Miami head coach Jim Morris said that this is probably the best N.C. State team he’s seen since he’s been at Miami (20-plus years). They have talent, yes. But seemingly anyone on the roster can make plays in difficult situations. The first two runs of the decisive second inning were driven in by No.s 7 and 8 in the N.C. State batting order.

“The first five runs were with two outs, and you’ve got to do things like that to have the number of wins that they’ve had over the year,” Morris said. “You’ve got to have a little bit of luck … We’ve got to some way figure out how to make that play and get some two-out hits.”

Or any hits, really, would be fine with Morris. Miami is not a program used to losing a lot of games. The Hurricanes aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they are the No. 8 seed in the tournament and have struggled to get hits.

It’s got their head coach concerned that making the NCAA tournament isn’t necessarily a sure thing.

“All kinds of rumors, every one of them has us going somewhere as a No. 2 seed,” Morris said. “That shows the strength of this league. So hopefully all those people that are saying that are right.”

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, know they’re in the tournament. The only question now is if they can somehow sneak their way into a national seed. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. At the very least, a good end to the ACC tournament would mean positive momentum for the NCAA tournament.

“(An ACC title) would mean a lot of confidence going into the regional. It would mean a lot of different things, maybe even a national seed,” N.C. State third baseman Trea Turner said. ‘We don’t want to get too far ahead, but it’s there and we know about it. You can’t deny that. Like (Elliott Avent) said, we’re trying to get better every game but it would also help a lot of things.”

Now, it has a chance to win its third and somewhat decisive game against North Carolina after Game 3 of the series earlier this year was rained out. But that’s not the game against North Carolina that this team remembers the most.

Last year, N.C. State faced the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament (also on a Saturday night in a packed stadium) for a berth in the ACC championship game. Except then, North Carolina had already been eliminated — it could only play spoiler to its archrival. And the Tar Heels did, beating N.C. State 4-0 in 12 innings.

“We played (North Carolina) last year to go to the championship and we fell a little short,” Turner said. “We still have that in our minds this year. … I didn’t play very well, so I remember a lot of things from (last year’s) game. But yeah, it was even sourer losing how we did. We definitely know that and we hopefully can turn that around next year.

‘We definitely wanted a crack at them that third game (this year) because we think we can hang with them. Obviously, they’re a very, very good team and they’ve proven that all year. It’s going to be tough, even though (Rodon) is on the bump it’s definitely going to be tough. It’s going be exciting to see that matchup.”