College World Series: Short-handed NC State falls to Vanderbilt after COVID-19 protocols delay game

North Carolina State lost a 3-1 affair to Vanderbilt on Friday as part of the 2021 College World Series. As a result, the two sides will meet again on Saturday, with the winner advancing and the loser heading home. 

The contest was supposed to begin at 2 p.m. ET. Instead, the dugouts were essentially empty at that time and the first pitch happened at 3:08 p.m. ET. According to NCAA, the delay was due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Several players from N.C. State were placed in COVID-19 protocol and declared unavailable for Friday’s game, leaving N.C. State short-handed in a game that could have seen them advance to the finals.

How short-handed? Well, the Wolfpack had just nine position players and four pitchers available. You can see the drastic difference for yourself here:

N.C. State didn’t use much of its bench during the season. They had nine regular hitters and of the five remaining bench players, none had more than 29 at-bats. Of those nine regulars, Tyler McDonough, Terrell Tatum, Jose Torres and J.T. Jarrett were out for the game, leaving backups at first base, second base, third base and designated hitter. Starting pitcher Garrett Payne had only worked 8 2/3 innings all season prior to this game. Payne, for his part, rose to the occasion in Friday’s game. He threw five innings and allowed three runs, albeit just one earned, on two hits and three walks.

Sam Highfill, who only pitched this season, started at first base and went 3 for 4. To make Highfill’s day even more impressive, Vanderbilt was starting possible top-five draft pick Kumar Rocker on the mound. 

The good news for N.C. State is that they’ll get another opportunity to advance to the national championship series. They had gone 2-0 in Omaha prior to Friday’s game, while Vanderbilt had already lost a game. This portion of the bracket is played under double-elimination rules.

If N.C. State can pull off the huge upset and win on Saturday, it will advance to the national championship series, beginning on Monday against the winner of the bottom of the bracket (Texas or Mississippi State).

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