Jonny Butler-fueled offense and solid pitching from Reid Johnston and Evan Justice brought N.C. State a win at the College World Series on Saturday.
Butler drove in five runs, including two on a first-inning home run that put the Wolfpack ahead for good, and Johnston quieted Stanford’s bats over six innings as N.C. State posted a 10-4 win at Omaha’s T.D. Ameritrade Park.
Playing in the College World Series for the third time in program history, the Wolfpack (36-18) will play either Vanderbilt or Arizona in a winner’s bracket game Monday night at 7 p.m.
The No. 9 national seed, Stanford (38-16) faces elimination when it plays at 2 p.m. on Monday.
N.C. State banged out 12 hits against the Cardinal as every Wolfpack batter reached base at least once.
“Every time I was up, I think, there were runners in scoring position,” said Butler, who was 3 for 5. “I’m always comfortable in those situations knowing the pressure is on the pitcher. He has to come to me.”
Facing a Cardinal offense that averaged 10 runs per game in the NCAA tournament prior to Saturday, the Wolfpack jumped to a 6-0 lead before Stanford collected its first hit.
N.C. State led 6-1 in the seventh inning before the Cardinal scored three times to chase Johnston and pull within two runs. Lefty relief ace Evan Justice entered to halt that rally and struck out four over the final three innings to secure the save.
“To be able to get out there and compete on this stage with these guys we have,” Justice said, “it’s a dream come true and it’s a lot of fun. I’m glad we came out victorious today.”
NC State scored four times in the top of the ninth to make the final three outs more comfortable.
“That was a big, big inning for us,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “Reid Johnston was Reid Johnston. Evan Justice was Evan Justice and I thought some guys at the top of the lineup had big, big days.”
The Wolfpack built its early lead as Austin Murr lined Stanford starter Brendan Beck’s first pitch of the game up the middle for a hit. One out later, Butler picked on a hanging changeup to yank the ball over the right-field wall for a 2-0 Wolfpack lead.
“Their starter, he wasn’t missing much,” Butler said. “I think he missed only one pitch and that was the one I was able to get out.”
After Vojtech Mensik reached on a two-base throwing error by Stanford catcher Kody Huff and Murr drew a two-out walk in the second inning, Tyler McDonough drilled the first pitch of the at-bat into right field for an RBI single giving N.C. State a 3-0 lead.
Devonte Brown stroked a lead-off home run in the fourth inning and, after another Stanford error, Butler’s two-out, two-run single extended the Wolfpack’s lead to 6-0.
Beck (9-2) left the game after pitching 5 2/3 innings where he struck out 10 but allowed seven hits. Stanford’s errors caused three of the Wolfpack’s six runs against him being unearned.
“We made some mistakes that are unusual for us,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “But then again, North Carolina State capitalized on every mistake that we did make to score runs.”
Meanwhile, Johnston rolled along. The right-hander didn’t allow a hit over the first three innings before Stanford’s Tim Tawa blasted a home run cutting the Wolfpack lead to 6-1 in the fourth inning.
Johnston didn’t allow Stanford to score again until the seventh inning when the Cardinal bats finally came alive
After an infield single, Christian Robinson lined a two-run home run down the right-field line slicing N.C. State’s lead to 6-3. After two more Stanford singles, NC State replaced Johnston with Justice.
Justice struck out the first batter he faced but allowed an Adam Crampton single that loaded the bases with one out. Justice struck out pinch-hitter Brett Barrera looking with a perfectly placed fastball to slow the rally.
But Mensik mishandled Tawa’s hard-hit grounder for an error that brought in a run to leave N.C State up 6-4. Justice retired Brock Jones on an infield pop-up to escape further damage.
While Justice slowed Stanford’s offense, N.C. State poured on the offense with a four-run ninth inning that included Butler’s RBI single, Luca Tresh’s two-run double and a two-run single by Mensik.
“This is a team that throughout the lineup can figure out how to be productive and score runs,” Avent said. “And that’s the name of the game.”