North Carolina state players huddle before playing Stanford in the inaugural College World Series baseball game on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo / Rebecca S. Gratz)
After half of his team nearly beat the defending champions, a frustrated NC State coach Elliott Avent said he wanted to talk about baseball, not vaccine policy.
“I’ll tell you what; I’m not going to talk about that,” he said. “If you want to talk baseball, we can talk baseball. If you want to talk about politics or something, you can talk to my head of sports medicine, Rob Murphy, speak.”
In the end, however, politics held out baseball and brought the Wolfpack season to a premature end.
At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, 12 hours before players were due to take the field for a crucial third game against Vanderbilt, the wolf pack’s magical run was halted by an NCAA decision rather than a crushing loss or loud celebration.
Twelve hours earlier, State entered the field with 13 available players after COVID-19 testing and tracking eliminated half of the team’s line-up. Newbies and underutilized reserves filled the last four spots in the slap order, including pitcher Sam Highfill, who played first base for the first time in his college career and hit for the first time in his college career (and a three-hit day produced).
Reports are still incomplete, but it appears the NCAA decided to test after state players and coaches showed signs of illness earlier this week – Avent said there was “a bug” in the team after Monday’s game. Large numbers of unvaccinated players were kept away from Friday’s game and a number of vaccinated players reportedly tested positive.
Friday’s game was delayed for an hour due to COVID protocols that left much of the NC State roster in quarantine. The wolf pack was not allowed in their locker room or on the field for infield training, and coach Elliott Avent said “some players have had to go to a waiting room”.
The incomplete team played Vanderbilt evenly for four innings before the Commodores scored and won 3-1 on freshman Garrett Payne, who had served all 8.2 innings that season.
The teams should play a crucial third game on Saturday to decide who will advance to the championship round of the College World Series.
The state hoped to bring back many of the players who were held up on Friday.
“Hopefully we have a lot of guys to line up,” said Avent. “Hopefully we have Reid Johnston, Sam Highfill and lots of guys … we’ll see.”
However, COVID and the NCAA had other plans.
“We were told that if the vaccinated players who tested positive had a negative test” [Friday] Night and then another negative test [Saturday] Tomorrow they could play, ”a player’s parent told the North State Journal. “And at some point they changed their minds about it. … At some point they decided that the team we played with yesterday was too dangerous to play today. “
The NCAA released a statement that read, “The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has canceled the Vanderbilt-NC State Men’s College World Series game scheduled for Saturday, June 26th at 1:00 p.m. Central Time due to COVID-19 protocols No contest declared. This decision was made based on the recommendation of the championship medical team and the Douglas County Department of Health. As a result, Vanderbilt will advance to the CWS finals. The NCAA and the Committee regret that NC State’s student athletes and coaching team will not be able to compete in the championship in which they have earned the right to participate. For data protection reasons, we cannot give any further details. “
The NCAA policy was recently relaxed for fully vaccinated athletes. It states: “Fully vaccinated student athletes and other Tier 1 people with no COVID-19-like symptoms can be exempted from routine testing. Student-athletes and other Tier 1 participants who are not vaccinated must continue to test at NCAA championships. “
Unvaccinated players who tested positive or the symptoms of the “bug” would have been enough to trigger the next part of the NCAA policy:
After their removal from the College World Series, NC State fans began sharing a “College World Series Champions” graphic on social media. The Wolfpack had only lost one game in the double elimination tournament.
“If there is evidence of significant or high community transmission, or if there are COVID-19 variants that escape the vaccine’s effects, testing may need to be restarted for fully vaccinated individuals. Such decisions are made in conjunction with local health authorities and / or federal guidelines. “
The New York Yankees faced a situation earlier this year that forced several fully vaccinated players to miss the time and go into quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
The Yankees’ situation came in the middle of a 162-game regular season, and everyone was back in uniform a few days later. For NC State, the decision was more impactful and ended the team’s Cinderella postseason run.
“This is a heartbreaking situation and I am sad for everyone involved and for everyone who has been captivated by the heart and struggle of this team,” said Avent in a statement released by the team. “I love this team and in the last month a lot of the people who got to see them fell in love with them too. Although we are all heartbroken, this team will never be forgotten and will live forever in the hearts of Wolfpack and baseball fans. “