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Tech falls to Wolfpack 8-3 in regional play

Bulldogs square off with Bama in elimination game
Brian Trahan
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Steele home run

Photo by Emerald McIntyre

One of the brights spots in an 8-3 loss to North Carolina State Saturday night was a two-run home run by Steele Netterville (left) in the eighth inning. Louisiana Tech will battle Alabama Sunday afternoon in an elimination game.

Whether it was the two-hour rain delay or the fact they ran into another team on a hot streak, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs were run over by North Carolina State 8-3 Saturday night in the NCAA regional at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.

First pitch didn’t happen until after 8 p.m., and pitch after pitch stymied a Bulldog offense that scored 18 runs in their first game of the regional against Rider. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack (32-17) were piecing together enough offense to overcome a solid performance from Tech’s Ryan Jennings on the hill.

With the loss, the Bulldogs fall to 41-19 on the season and into the losers bracket. They will play an elimination game against Alabama (32-25) Sunday at 2 p.m. Should they win, they’ll play NC State again Sunday evening to try and force a regional championship game on Monday.

“I was disappointed in our offense. We really didn’t put any pressure on them all night,” head coach Lane Burroughs said. “We were very late and lethargic with our swings. I don’t know why. That was disappointing.”

Early in the game, a pitching duel developed between Jennings and Wolfpack starter Sam Highfill, a big right-hander with a fastball in the low 90 mph range.

NC State did score its first run in the top of the first when Austin Murr doubled to lead off the game and moved to third on a flyball by Tyler McDonough. Murr scored on a double by Jonny Butler to make it 1-0. To that point, the Wolfpack still hadn’t recorded a single in the tournament after hitting nothing but home runs and doubles against Alabama the game before.

In the third inning, NC State pecked away at Jennings again. Murr and McDonough put together back-to-back singles but Murr was called out on a controversial play at third base on a wild pitch. The play was reviewed and he was called out.

Butler came up and did damage again, this time in an unconventional way. His infield grounder to first was fielded by Manny Garcia and flipped to Jennings, but Butler beat Jennings to the bag. While Jennings was calling for the dugout to challenge the play, McDonough came around to score from second. The play was upheld as safe at first and the lead was 2-0.

Meanwhile, Tech’s formidable lineup was being held in check by Highfill. The Bulldogs managed only two hits in the first four innings — doubles by Hunter Wells and Taylor Young.

“Sometimes you have to give the other guy credit, so give them credit. They attacked the strike zone, I do know that. Their offense is really good, they are athletic and they are hard to punch out. They put pressure on us,” Burroughs said.

NC State tacked on another run in the fourth with a one-out double by Devonte Brown and an RBI single by J.T. Jarrett. It would stay 3-0 until the Wolfpack broke it open with three more in the top of the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Murr and McDonough following a walk, and a sacrifice fly by Butler. The 6-0 deficit was enough for reliever Evan Justice, who entered in relief of Highfill in the sixth.

Justice did have a hiccup in the bottom of the eighth with an 8-0 lead, when Tech finally got on the scoreboard. Steele Netterville launched a two-run home run to left field and Cole McConnell followed with a solo shot to right to cut the lead to 8-3. There would be no walkoff magic on this night, however.

“We kept fighting and that’s who we are. We’ll keep fighting,” Burroughs said. “We’ll have to win two ballgames and we’ve done it before. We’ll have to come out and get after it.”

Battle-tested, the Bulldogs know how to play facing elimination. Having to beat Southern Miss twice in the Conference USA tournament led to back-to-back walkoff wins. Now it will have to be done against Bama and NC State.

“If you lose your season is over. Our guys know that,” Burroughs said. “There’s no motivational speeches. They’ve had a great year and done a lot of great things here, but we want this thing to keep going. None of us are ready for it to end. When you put yourself in the arena, you get your teeth knocked down your throat. We did tonight.”