OMAHA, Neb. — Eleven hours after NC State took the field at the College World Series with a depleted roster because of COVID-19-related issues, the Wolfpack found out their season was over.
Around 2 a.m. ET Saturday, the NCAA Division I baseball committee declared Saturday’s winner-take-all bracket final between NC State and Vanderbilt a no contest due to COVID-19 protocols, putting the Commodores into the CWS championship round.
Vanderbilt will face the winner of Saturday night’s bracket final between Texas and Mississippi State.
The NCAA said the decision to rule NC State out was based on the recommendation of the championship medical team and the Douglas County (Nebraska) Health Department.
“The NCAA and the committee regret that NC State’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate,” the statement read. “Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”
On Saturday, the health department released a statement saying it offered testing and investigation support but that the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee and the association’s medical team ultimately made the decision to remove NC State from the bracket.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused numerous cancellations of games across college sports since March 2020, but before Saturday, just three teams had been removed from NCAA championship play because of COVID-19: the Virginia Commonwealth men’s basketball team, the Rice women’s volleyball team and the Michigan men’s hockey team.
NC State has never won a College World Series championship, but hopes were high after the Wolfpack beat No. 1 overall seed Arkansas in the super regionals, then won two straight and spent the week in the winners bracket. Even Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said that the Wolfpack had “some magic with them.”
The magic ended Friday. Earlier in the day, ESPN’s Ryan McGee reported that Wolfpack starting second baseman JT Jarrett and reliever Evan Justice were out due to COVID-19-related issues. A source described Jarrett as “no longer with the team,” while Justice was still in Omaha but placed in quarantine. ESPN first learned of a positive test concerning Jarrett on Friday morning.
NC State had just 13 players Friday — nine position players and four pitchers — and used 12 of those players in a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt, forcing what was supposed to be an elimination game Saturday to determine who would play in the CWS championship round.
In less than 24 hours, NC State’s season was over.
“The last 24 hours have been extremely difficult for everyone involved and my heart goes out to the student-athletes, coaches and staff of our baseball program,” NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan said in a statement Saturday morning. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff will always be our unwavering priority. The timing of this is simply devastating for everyone involved, but it doesn’t diminish their incredible accomplishments this season.”
“We are truly heartbroken for NC State’s student-athletes, coaches, support staff, administration, alumni and fans,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement Saturday. “To have the season abruptly end this way is devastating. Watching this team, especially in the postseason, has been nothing short of inspiring and we applaud the entire program for the resiliency it has shown this season.”
NC State players and coaches gathered at home plate to take pictures around the CWS logo early Saturday, after the rain-delayed Texas-Mississippi game was completed.
“This is a heartbreaking situation and I’m gutted for everyone involved and for all those that were captivated by the heart and fight of this team,” coach Elliott Avent said. “Our medical staff and our players have been incredible this season with all they’ve done to keep us safe and get us ready to play, day in and day out.
“I love this team and this past month, many people that got to watch them, fell in love with them as well. Although we’re all heartbroken, this team will never be forgotten and will live in the hearts of Wolfpack and baseball fans forever.”
NC State players reacted with anger and confusion on Twitter.
“Words can’t even describe this feeling,” right fielder Devonte Brown tweeted. “An opportunity of a lifetime, something you dream of as a little kid just snatched away in the blink of an eye.”
Matt Willadsen, who had been the scheduled starter Friday but did not pitch, tweeted he would never forget the feeling of hearing the news:
“Our coaching staff deserve better. Us players deserve better. Our fans deserve better. Everyone that believed in us deserve better. We all deserve better. @NCAACWS you have ruined the biggest moment of our player’s lives so far. What a joke.”
Will never forget this feeling. Our coaching staff deserve better. Us players deserve better. Our fans deserve better. Everyone that believed in us deserve better. We all deserve better. @NCAACWS you have ruined the biggest moment of our player’s lives so far. What a joke. https://t.co/P3evtjhhSI
— Matt Willadsen (@MattWilladsen) June 26, 2021
Vanderbilt, the defending national champs, went into the day needing to beat NC State a second time to get to the championship round. Now the Commodores will be able to rest their two star pitchers, Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, in preparation for either the Longhorns or Bulldogs in the finals beginning Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.