Their chances at an ACC tournament title were spoiled by their archrivals in the 18th inning before the largest college crowd in state history, and North Carolina State's players had to ride the bus home.
It was well after 2 a.m.
“Fortunately it wasn't a long bus ride,” Wolfpack senior Brett Williams said.
That 30-minute trip from Durham, N.C., back to their campus after a 2-1 loss to North Carolina was about as miserable as any Williams has been on, though. The veteran outfielder didn't realize he and his teammates might have a chance at redemption on an even bigger stage three weeks later.
“I don't think anybody was even tired, but there was nothing to talk about,” he said. “We just had to soak it in, play back the whole game and try to take positives from it to get yourself in a better mindset going forward.”
Turns out there will be a rematch — this one at the College World Series at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“They broke our heart last time, so this is huge,” Williams said. “It's going to be a crazy environment.”
The first question at Friday's press conferences was directed to the teams' coaches, who happened to be sitting next to one another in the front of the room.
UNC's Mike Fox jokingly wondered who was responsible for the seating chart.
“We're touching knees, and by the end of this, we're going to be holding hands,” Fox said as N.C. State's Elliott Avent chuckled.
Away from the field, the players on both squads seem to be just as friendly with one another. Of the in-state guys, each team has at least one representative from Charlotte, Durham, Wilmington, High Point and Waxhaw.
North Carolina freshman Trent Thornton, who's from Charlotte, played with N.C. State's Logan Ratledge and Brad Stone at Ardrey Kell High School. When they see one another on trips home this offseason, Thornton is sure they'll be sharing a few verbal jabs.
But that only increases the intensity during the games. “Once we get on the field, it's all business,” Thornton said.
The teams split the regular-season series before matching up in the ACC tournament in Durham. A crowd of 11,392 watched.
Both sides expect another epic showdown Sunday.
“Every time we play them, they're always great games,” N.C. state outfielder Jake Fincher said. “I've never seen a dull game between us. I think it makes it a little bit more special that we meet in Omaha.”
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