RALEIGH, N.C. - The final series of the regular season comes down to this for NC State: Sweep Clemson or the season ends Saturday afternoon. And the Wolfpack will need some help from an unlikely source or a sweep of the Tigers won’t be enough.
NC State (25-28 overall, 10-17 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts Clemson (36-17, 16-11) at Doak Park at Dail Park beginning Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Friday’s game also will be a 6:30 p.m. start. Saturday’s series finale is set for a 1 p.m. first pitch. All three games will be broadcast live on WKNC-FM (88.1) and on-line at gopack.com via Pack Pass. Saturday’s game will be the ACC TV Game of the Week. Check your local listings.
Not only must the Wolfpack sweep the Tigers in order to qualify for the ACC Tournament, but North Carolina must sweep Boston College in Chestnut Hill, and Virginia must win at least one game from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
That’s about the equivalent of drawing for an inside straight in poker, but it’s the only chance NC State has at this point.
“We’ve dug a deep hole for ourselves, but at least we still have something to play for,” Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent said. “We put ourselves in this position by beating North Carolina last weekend, and we played well in that series and this week [against Appalachian State]. We know making the tournament is a long shot. We just want to kids to finish strong and go into the offseason on a good note. If we qualify for the tournament, all the better.”
The Starting Pitchers: NC State will send junior lefthander Jimmy Gillheeney (6-4, 3.24) to the mound for the series opener on Thursday. He will oppose Clemson senior righthander Trey Delk (3-1, 3.21). Junior lefthander John Lambert (1-4, 5.80) will start on Friday in the middle game of the series. Clemson will start sophomore lefthander Casey Harman (6-3, 3.61). NC State’s pitching plans for Saturday’s finale are still to be determined. Clemson will start lefthander Chris Dwyer (4-4, 5.01) on Saturday.
Gillheeney is coming off perhaps his most impressive outing of the season. He started against then-top-ranked North Carolina last Friday and shut out the Tar Heels for seven innings on seven hits and struck out a career-high 10. Gillheeney has pitched into the sixth inning in all 12 starts, including seven starts with at least seven complete innings pitched. He has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in eight of his 12 starts.
“Jimmy Gillheeney was outstanding for us against North Carolina, but he’s outstanding all year long,” Avent said. “He’s had several games when we didn’t score many runs for him, and we committed nine errors behind him at Virginia, but he never lets any of that affect him. He just makes quality pitches and always gives us a chance to win.”
The First 100 Fans The Enter The Stadium On Thursday: Will receive a free pair NC State Crocs. Sizes depend on availability.
The Series vs. Clemson: The Tigers lead the overall series with the Wolfpack by a hefty margin: 101-68. Since Avent became NC State’s head coach in 1997, Clemson holds a 26-16 lead in the series with the Pack. Avent’s teams are 10-5 vs. Clemson at Doak Field at Dail Park, 2-1 at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C., 3-14 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson, and 1-6 in the ACC Tournament. The Tigers have won 14 of the last 20 games in the series, dating back to the final game of the 2003 series in Kinston.
For the record, the last and only time NC State ever swept a three-game series from Clemson was in 1997, Avent’s first year on the job.
Last Season vs. Clemson: The Tigers took two of three games against the Wolfpack last season at Kingsmore Stadium. NC State won the first game of the series 5-4 thanks to a 3-for-3 performance from Matt Payne and 2-for-4 outings from Marcus Jones and Ryan Pond, who homered. Nick Stanley drove in the game-winner with a pinch-hit eighth-inning sacrifice fly.
Clemson came back to take the final two games of the series. The Tigers won the middle game of the series 3-2, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh to spoil a splendid pitching performance by NC State’s Clayton Shunick. A bloop single to right-center, two groundball singles that found holes in the infield, and a double play produced the three-run uprising.
NC State wasted more good pitching in the finale, as Eryk McConnell allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings and lost, thanks to a two-hit shutout by Clemson’s Graham Stoneburner. The Pack got a single up the middle in the second inning from Matt Payne, then an infield single by Chris Schaeffer in the eighth. Clemson won 2-0.
The Past Week: NC State entered last weekend’s series vs. North Carolina with a 22-27 overall record, and after taking two of three from the Tar Heels and defeating Appalachian State on Tuesday, NC State has won three of four, and five of its last seven games. The Wolfpack hasn’t exactly been a juggernaut in that time, but has outscored its opponents 55-27, batted .282 and hit nine home runs. The pitching staff has a team ERA of 3.48 in that time.
Win 2K: Sunday’s victory over North Carolina not only gave the Wolfpack a big ACC series victory, the May 12th win was the 2,000th win in the storied history of NC State baseball - dating back to the 1903 season. The Pack is the 38th team to reach the 2,000-victory plateau. After Tuesday’s win over Appalachian State, the all-time record for NC State baseball (104 years including 2009) is 2,001-1,228 with 27 ties for an overall winning percentage of .621 (ties figured as a half-win according to NCAA guidelines).
Kyle Wilson Sets School Steals Record: Junior center fielder and leadoff hitter Kyle Wilson shattered a 17-year-old school record Tuesday vs. Appalachian State when he stole his 29th and 30th bases of the season. The previous single-season record for steals was 29, set by Jeff Meszar in 1992.
Wilson leads the ACC with 30 steals in 34 attempts entering the Clemson series. Wilson is one of just eight players in NC State history to steal 20 or more bases in a single season, one of just three to steal 25 or more, and obviously the first to steal 30.
Wilson also swung the bat well last week, batting .412 (7-for-17) with three homers, nine RBIs and six stolen bases in as many attempts. Over the last 16 games, dating back to April 4 at Boston College, Wilson has batted .367 (18-for-49) with two doubles, three home runs, 12 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
Ciencin Keeps On Hitting: Freshman Andrew Ciencin has settled in at third base for NC State and is hitting up a storm. He is batting .361 (13-for-36) with five doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in his last 10 games. Ciencin has not had back-to-back hitless games since March 25 and 28 against Liberty and Virginia Tech. He has batted .306 in 27 games since then.
Fun Reunion For Poulk: Drew Poulk played for North Carolina in 2007 before transferring to St. Petersburg Community College for the 2008 season, then to NC State in 2009. You can imagine how anxious he was to take his swings against his former teammates, but patience is a virture. Poulk had to wait until the sixth inning of the second game of the series before being called upon to pinch-hit. With Wolfpack runners on second and third and two out, and the team trailing 3-2, Poulk hit a bullet down the third-base line, only to be robbed by third baseman Kyle Seager, who not only made a miracle stop of the ball, but was able to throw Poulk out at first base for the final out of the inning.
Poulk did not let the unlucky at-bat carry over, even though his first at-bat in Sunday’s finale was equally unlucky - a blast to deep center field that center fielder Dustin Ackley ran down right at the fence. Poulk singled sharply to left his next at-bat, then homered over the big wall in left leading off the bottom of the fifth. Poulk stayed hot Tuesday against Appalachian State, hitting a homer and an RBI single in three at-bats. For the week, he batted .333 (5-for-15) with a pair of home runs and five RBIs.
Bullpen Boys: With the emergence of freshman righthander Cory Mazzoni and the continued success of senior righthander Kyle Rutter, NC State now has a strong 1-2 punch in the bullpen. Mazzoni as made five appearances in that time, working 10 shutout innings and allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out 10. He has no decisions in that time, but picked up his first save of the season May 8 in the first game of the North Carolina series.
Rutter has made seven appearances since April 19 and has allowed four runs on 11 hits in 12 innings, walking two and striking out six. In 12 combined appearances dating back to April 19, Mazzoni and Rutter have worked 22 innings and allowed just four runs, all earned. They have walked three and struck out 16.