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NC State headed to College World Series after win over Georgia in Athens Super Regional

N.C. State is headed back to the College World Series.

This time, the Wolfpack hopes, it will only be about baseball.

The Pack will make the prized trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for the second time in the past four years after an 8-5 victory Monday over Georgia in the third and deciding game of the Athens Super Regional at Foley Field.

The Pack, led by center fielder Eli Serrano III, smacked four home runs in the hitter-friendly ballpark on the Georgia campus. Serrano III, who had three hits, had one homer and narrowly missed another, and Garrett Pennington, Alec Makarewicz and Alex Sosa each went deep for the Pack (38-21).

The 2024 College World Series begins Friday and in essence is an ACC/SEC challenge. The Wolfpack will face Kentucky in its opener Saturday at 2 p.m. at Charles Schwab Field.

“I’m proud of this ball club and I wanted them to go so bad,” NCSU coach Elliott Avent said. “There’s nothing like walking on that field at Omaha, Nebraska.”

The Pack made it to Omaha in 2021 and was peaking at the right time after beating top-seeded Arkansas in the Super Regional. But COVID-19 issues caused the NCAA to rule N.C. State had to forfeit a game to Vanderbilt and be out of the College World Series — a bittersweet ending to the season.

But the Pack is back.

“I’m sure the guys on that ‘21 team, I really don’t believe in retribution or revenge, but I’m sure the guys on that ‘21 team might feel a little different,” Avent told ESPN. “But this is a whole different team and I’m happy for this ball club. They have been through so much and they stuck with it and they persevered.”

NC State’s Alex Sosa (16) celebrates after making it safe to second base during Game 3 of the Super NCAA regional at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga.
NC State’s Alex Sosa (16) celebrates after making it safe to second base during Game 3 of the Super NCAA regional at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga.

One of the biggest questions Monday was which team would get the strongest pitching in the win-or-else third game? The best pitchers in both bullpens were rested after the Pack won the opener 18-1 and the Bulldogs bounced back with an 11-2 win Sunday. But what about the starters?

The Pack started right-hander Logan Whitaker, who pitched into the fifth and had seven strikeouts before the Wolfpack turned to Jacob Dudan and then Derrick Smith out of the pen. Georgia got just three innings out of its starter, Zach Harris.

Dudan, a freshman right-hander, entered the game with the tension thick at Foley Field and the crowd loud.

With the Pack leading 4-2 in the fifth, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with one out. That ended the game for Whitaker and brought in Dudan, making his first appearance of the Super Regional.

At bat for Georgia: Charlie Condon.

The 2024 SEC player of the year is soon to be a top-five pick in the MLB draft, and the third baseman leads the nation in batting average and homers.

“He’s the truth,” the Pack’s Whitaker said.

But Condon struck out on a 1-2 pitch and Dudan ended the inning — and the big threat — with a groundout.

Condon was mostly quiet in the Super Regional for Georgia (41-17) but did have a solo homer Monday in the ninth.

Condon would finish 2-for-11 in the three games with two walks as the Pack minimized his impact.

“He hit some balls 112 miles an hour and got out,” Georgia coach Wes Johnson said of his star. “That’s just called luck. I don’t think they neutralized (Condon). When you’re hitting balls over 100 miles an hour and you’re getting off great swings .... This game is really hard.”

Georgia coach Wes Johnson consoles Georgia’s Charlie Condon (24) after losing Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against NC State at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.
Georgia coach Wes Johnson consoles Georgia’s Charlie Condon (24) after losing Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against NC State at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.

Serrano III homered in the sixth for a 5-2 lead but the Bulldogs picked up a run in the bottom of the inning as Tre Phelps scored on a sacrifice fly.

Serrano III had just missed a leadoff homer to start the game, the ball hitting high on the wall for a double. He didn’t miss in the sixth.

Serrano III then made a leaping catch of a deep fly by Georgia’s Slate Alford with two on in the bottom of the seventh, using his 6-5 frame and long reach to make the play.

“Another foot, you know, and we might still be playing,” Johnson said. “But that’s the game of baseball.”

NC State’s Matt Heavner (6) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a run during Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.
NC State’s Matt Heavner (6) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a run during Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.

The Bulldogs, after their big win Sunday, jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second Monday on Phelps’ homer. Phelps had an early three-run blast Sunday and now had another.

But the Pack quickly responded. After Serrano III singled to lead off the third, Pennington took the first pitch deep for a home run and a 2-2 tie.

New game. New life for the Wolfpack.

The Pack then picked up two runs in the fourth to take the lead. Matt Heavner doubled and later scored on a passed ball, and Makarewicz singled in Noah Soles to make it 4-2.

The Bulldogs lifted Harris in the fourth — after Heavner’s double — for Kolten Smith, the starter in the opening game Saturday. Smith, another right-hander, had been battered for 10 runs in that game — the Pack scoring 11 in the second inning — but had thrown just 38 pitches and was available.

Smith gave up the solo homer to Serrano, then another to Alex Sosa in the top of the seventh. That brought on Brian Zeldin.

Makarewicz had a two-out, two-run homer off Zeldin in the eighth after Pennington had doubled. It was 8-4, Pack.

NC State’s Alec Makarewicz (99) celebrates after hitting a home run during Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.
NC State’s Alec Makarewicz (99) celebrates after hitting a home run during Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.

Smith would pitch a career-high three innings in relief for the Pack for his eighth save of the season.

NC State celebrates after winning Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.
NC State celebrates after winning Game 3 of the Super NCAA Regional against Georgia at Foley Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Athens, Ga. NC State won 8-5.