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Pennington’s power helps NC State top South Carolina in NCAA Tournament Raleigh Regional

On a night when balls were flying out of N.C. State’s Doak Field, the Wolfpack beat South Carolina by doing a lot of the big and little things right.

The Pack won 6-4 Saturday in the NCAA Raleigh Regional, moving within a victory of advancing to a Super Regional in the tournament. For N.C. State, that was a big thing.

The Wolfpack (35-20) will get its chance to move on Sunday night after South Carolina and James Madison play at noon in a losers’ bracket game. The winner of that elimination game will need to knock off the Pack, the No. 10 national seed, twice to get out of the regional.

There were six home runs in Saturday’s game, enough to keep everyone in the standing-room-only crowd at Doak entertained and wondering what might come next.

Garrett Pennington had a pair for the Pack and Eli Serrano III added a third. But the Gamecocks (37-24), seeded second in the regional, got three home runs from the bottom of their batting order as Dylan Brewer twice went deep and Will Tippett had a solo shot.

N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) celebrates with Eli Serrano III (16) after Pennington hit a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) celebrates with Eli Serrano III (16) after Pennington hit a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.

“These are the kind of games you live for,” Pennington said. “Hopefully there are many more to come and we stay hot.”

After all the long-ball thrills, the deciding run for the Wolfpack came on a bases-loaded walk to Alex Sosa in the seventh inning that brought in Serrano. That pushed the Pack ahead 5-4 and came after Brewer’s second homer of the game had tied the score 4-4 in the top of the inning.

An insurance run came in the eighth, the inning started by a bunt single by the Pack’s Matt Heavner, who then scored on the only error of the game. After advancing to third, Heavner was caught drifting off third base by Gamecocks catcher Dalton Reeves, who faked a throw as Pennington stole second and threw toward third.

Heavner was hit in the helmet, the ball bounding past him and allowing him to scamper in and score.

Closer Derrick Smith came out of the bullpen to fan four of the six batters he faced with his nasty fastball and slider., striking out South Carolina slugger Cole Messina.

“We knew in that bases-loaded situation we were going to scratch a few over and hopefully shut them down, because this guy is a great-arm guy,” Pennington said, nodding toward Smith in the postgame interview.

N.C. State’s Eli Serrano III (16) celebrates with Brandon Butterworth (3) after Serrano III scored after the Wolfpack’s Alex Sosa walked with the bases loaded in the seventh inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Eli Serrano III (16) celebrates with Brandon Butterworth (3) after Serrano III scored after the Wolfpack’s Alex Sosa walked with the bases loaded in the seventh inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.

But the Pack had contributions from many this night. Starting pitcher Dom Fritton gave State five strong innings, allowing three hits, making some big pitches. Shortstop Brandon Butterworth made some slick fielding plays, snaring a hard liner by Kennedy Jones and then doubling up the Gamecocks to end a sixth-inning threat.

“That guy makes unreal plays,” Pennington said. “He makes the above-average play look as easy as ever.”

Serrano had three hits and scored three times, his solo homer leading off the fifth giving the Pack a 4-2 lead.

Brewer, who had four homers this season, tied it in the seventh with his second of the game. He did not know until 30 minutes before game time that he would be replacing Ethan Petry, who suffered a finger fracture Friday in the Gamecocks’ comeback win over JMU.

The Gamecocks started lefthander Garrett Gainey against a Wolfpack team that has a lineup filled with left-handed batters. But he couldn’t stop Pennington, and Serrano put a ball into the Wolfpack bullpen.

“You just keep building on what you do good and try to find little ways to do the little things to get you across the finish line,” NCSU coach Elliott Avent said.

N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) connects on a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) connects on a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) celebrates with a hockey helmet and stick in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Garrett Pennington (33) celebrates with a hockey helmet and stick in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Matt Heavner (6) celebrates after tagging out South Carolina’s Blake Jackson (6) to complete the double play in the sixth inning during the Wolfpack’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Matt Heavner (6) celebrates after tagging out South Carolina’s Blake Jackson (6) to complete the double play in the sixth inning during the Wolfpack’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Brandon Butterworth (3) and Matt Heavner (6) celebrate after Heavner scored on a throwing error to put the Wolfpack up by two in the eighth inning of N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Brandon Butterworth (3) and Matt Heavner (6) celebrate after Heavner scored on a throwing error to put the Wolfpack up by two in the eighth inning of N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Jacob Cozart (14) hugs Derrick Smith (25) after the final out in N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Jacob Cozart (14) hugs Derrick Smith (25) after the final out in N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Brandon Butterworth (3) tags out South Carolina’s Cole Messina (19) as he is picked off in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State’s Brandon Butterworth (3) tags out South Carolina’s Cole Messina (19) as he is picked off in the third inning during N.C. State’s game against South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State associate head coach Chris Hart can’t believe the call by third base umpire Kevin Elzey in the seventh inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State associate head coach Chris Hart can’t believe the call by third base umpire Kevin Elzey in the seventh inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent talks with Noah Soles (2) in the eighth inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.
N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent talks with Noah Soles (2) in the eighth inning during N.C. State’s 6-4 victory over South Carolina in the NCAA Raleigh Regional at Doak Field Saturday, June 1, 2024.