NC State uses huge second inning to earn 18-1 win over Georgia in Athens Super Regional

One big inning has N.C. State one win away from the College World Series.

The Wolfpack had a dominating, record-setting day Saturday against Georgia in the opening game of the Athens Super Regional, erupting for 11 runs in the second inning and cruising to an 18-1 victory at Foley Field.

The Pack (37-20), seeded No. 10 in the NCAA baseball tournament, has a chance to close out the best-of-three Super Regional on Sunday in another noon start. For the Bulldogs (42-16), the No. 7 national seed, it will be an elimination game and a chance to atone for Saturday’s wipeout.

“We know our job’s not done yet,” Wolfpack catcher Jacob Cozart said.

The Pack, which swept through the Raleigh Regional last week, got the bats going early and never stopped. Seven players had two or more hits — the Wolfpack finished with 20 — as Cozart belted a pair of homers, and Eli Serrano III, Garrett Pennington and Alec Makarewicz also homered.

That made things a lot less stressful for Wolfpack starter Sam Highfill, one of the State players who was on the 2021 College World Series team and wants another appearance ro close our his college career. The graduate from Apex gave the Pack six strong innings, the righthander allowing one run on four hits.

“I don’t think we put any pressure on him,” Georgia coach Wes Johnson said. “When you’re up 11-0, a guy like that, with his kind of experience, typically can carry you into that sixth inning. I think that’s where you saw his experience play out. He pitched to the scoreboard, which is what good, experienced pitchers do.”

After 111 pitches, Highflll turned things over to Andrew Shaffner, a sophomore righthander who had three hitless innings to close it out.

“What that guy has given to our baseball program, you can’t say enough about,” NCSU coach Elliott Avent said of Highfill. “He was terrific today against a great offensive lineup. I thought Shaffner coming in there and finishing and filling the zone, and without having to use anyone else, was big.”

Makarewicz finished with four hits and three runs scored, Noah Soles drove in five runs — all in the second inning — and freshman left fielder Luke Nixon had three hits, scored three times and batted in three runs.

The first pitch of the game was thrown by Georgia starter Kolten Smith at 12:06 p.m. By 12:46, N.C. State had a 7-0 lead, the bases were loaded and no one was out in the top of the second inning. Smith was walking to the dugout, his day over.

The inning began with some “small ball” by the Pack — bunt singles by Nixon and Matt Heavner. When the damage was done by the Wolfpack in the second, it was 11-0. Three players had two hits in the inning and Soles had a pair of doubles and knocked in five.

Everyone in the Wolfpack lineup had a hit in the inning but Cozart, whose grounder caused problems when Georgia bungled a potential double play with a poor throw to second.

The Pack had 11 runs on 11 hits, both school records for a Super Regional game.

“Chaos unloaded and then we started rolling.” Cozart said.

Cozart, not to be left out of the hitting deluge, promptly homered in the third inning with a deep shot to right field for a 12-0 lead. His two-out, RBI-single in the fifth pushed the lead to 13-0.

The Bulldogs broke through against Highfill in the fifth on Corey Collins’ RBI single. But with the bases loaded and two out, Highfill got Dylan Goldstein to ground out to second. That was that.

The Pack continued to find ways to score. In the sixth, Nixon singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, then to third on a flyout. Nixon scored when Soles, the Wolfpack hitter, was plunked in the helmet on a poor throw by catcher Henry Hunter — a 14-1 lead.

Georgia third baseman Charlie Condon, who should be the consensus pick as the national player of the year, had an 0-for-3 day as the Pack pitched carefully to the Bulldogs star.

“This game is not about panicking,” Georgia’s Johnson said. “It’s a team that fights through adversity and stays the course. We’ll respond and we’ll be ready.”

Avent has indicated he would stick with his normal pitching rotation, which means lefthander Dom Fritton will likely start Game 2 on Sunday.

Avent said his team’s approach to the second game would be as simple as it is basic: “Just keep playing baseball.”

“Every game of baseball is special and and every game of baseball is different and every day is a new day,” he said.