Bases loaded. One out. Georgia’s Charlie Condon, the likely No. 1 overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft, coming to the plate with NC State clinging to a 2-run lead with a trip to the College World Series on the line.

It was the kind of situation that just a few months ago would have sparked a feeling of impending doom among the Wolfpack’s traditionally tortured fans.

And their worst fears would inevitably be realized.

Not anymore.

Now that the curse of #NCStateStuff has officially been reversed, there’s plenty of karma in the bank to be repaid.

So instead of giving up a game-breaking grand slam that would have snatched the proverbial brass ring literally out of the Wolfpack’s hands and broken their hearts yet again, freshman Jacob Duden came out of the bullpen and struck Condon out.

On three straight nasty sliders.

Dudan then retired Slate Alford on a weak grounder to end the threat. But State was far from through.
On the very first pitch in the top of the 6th, Eli Serrano III blasted a massive home run that added to both the momentum and the lead.

It was one of 4 homers the Wolfpack hit on Monday and it sent them off and running to an 8-5 win that clinched their best-of-3 NCAA Super Regional series against the Bulldogs and a return trip to Omaha.

The significance of the victory goes far beyond the fact that State will be returning to the CWS for the first time since being sent home for COVID-related reasons 1 win short of the championship series in 2021. Or that their invitation to college baseball’s biggest party helps the ACC tie a record with 4 teams in the bracket.

Regardless of what happens at Charles Schwab Field next week, the Wolfpack’s victory in Athens is already the exclamation point on the greatest overall athletic year in school history.

And arguably, any school’s history.

Until Monday, no ACC program and only 2 others nationally had been to a football bowl game, both the men’s and women’s basketball Final Fours and the College World Series in the same 12-month period.

On top of all that, State staged a miracle 5-win in 5-day run to end a 37-year ACC basketball tournament championship drought to go along with an NCAA women’s cross-country title and a national runnerup finish in women’s tennis.

It’s an almost surreal turn of events not even Jimmy V could have conjured up even in his wildest imagination. That’s why it’s only appropriate in the immediate aftermath of this latest success, long-time baseball coach Elliott Avent invoked the spirit of Jim Valvano in a postgame interview on ESPN.

“The Jimmy V legacy at NC State is not only real, it’s a thing,” he said. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up is something every person who’s played there lives by. This club really lived by it. They brought Jimmy V’s saying to life.”

Especially for Avent and 6 of his players.

They are the only remaining members of the team that was forced to face Vanderbilt with a skeleton crew of only 13 vaccinated players before being sent home in the middle of the night without having the opportunity to play for their shot at the national title.

Pitcher Sam Highfill, who filled in as a 1st baseman on the so-called “Wolfpack 13,” is the only one that saw the field in the CWS. But outfielder Noah Soles, pitchers Logan Whitaker and John Miralia, infielder Carson Falsken and injured pitcher Matt Willadsen were also on the roster.

For them, the opportunity to go back to Omaha and have their fate decided on the field instead of a conference room – win or lose – is the ultimate form of vindication.

For themselves and their former teammates who can’t be there with them.

“I don’t really believe in retribution or revenge,” Avent said. “But I’m sure the guys on that ‘21 team might feel a bit different. This is a whole different team and I’m proud of this ballclub.”

Avent has reason to be proud, given the adversity this current group has overcome to get to this point.

The Wolfpack lost several key players for the season, including projected ace Willadsen and starting corner outfielder Josh Hogue to a broken leg. Whitaker, Soles and freshman outfielder Alex Sosa also missed significant time before returning to the lineup.

Mirroring the trajectory of that 2021 team, State broke out of the game slowly and caught fire at just the right time. It won 14 of its final 20 regular season games, including a sweep of Wake Forest on the final weekend that solidified its status as a top-16 national seed.

The hot streak has continued into the postseason with 3 straight regional wins before taking the bite out of Georgia’s Bulldogs with an offensive explosion that included 10 home runs in 3 games – 3 from Jacob Cozart and 2 each by Serrano, Garrett Pennington and Alec Makarewicz.

Three of the 4 homers hit on Monday came immediately after Georgia had scored to either take the lead
or get its crowd back into the game by cutting into the Wolfpack’s advantage.

Those used to be the kind of situations that set State and its fans up for yet another in a long string of inevitable disappointments.

Not anymore.

Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, anything and everything has become possible for the Wolfpack.

That alone should qualify 2023-24 as the greatest sports year ever for NC State. But with the opportunity to go to Omaha and finish it off with some redemption and a championship, it still has the potential to get even better.