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Wolfpack tops Stanford falls in College World Series opener

By Eric Olson

AP Sports Writer

OMAHA, Neb. — Jonny Butler homered and drove in a career-high five runs, Reid Johnston pitched six strong innings and North Carolina State opened the College World Series with a 10-4 victory over Stanford on Saturday.

The Wolfpack (36-18), who knocked out No. 1 national seed Arkansas in the super regionals last week, continued their postseason roll in the first CWS game since 2019. The 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic.

N.C. State got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Butler’s homer to right off Pac-12 pitcher of the year Brendan Beck. After Devonte Brown barely cleared the fence in right-center in the fourth to give the Wolfpack at least two homers in 17 of its last 21 games, Butler’s two-run bloop single made it 6-0.

Butler led a Wolfpack offense that finished with 12 hits, including five for extra bases, and capitalized on Stanford’s three errors.

“He’s a model of consistency in everything he does,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “Baserunning, outfield play, everything. Some guys like that fly under the radar. It’s hard for Jonny Butler to fly under the radar. People started taking notice of him middle of the season and he’s continuing to play better and better.”

Avent had said before the game that offensive versatility would be important at TD Ameritrade Park, which is not known for surrendering many home runs. Each team homered twice on an 86-degree day with a light breeze.

“The wind was a little friendly today,” Butler said.

Stanford was playing in the CWS for the first time since 2008, and coach David Esquer said nerves might have been a factor early. The Cardinal came in 10th nationally in fielding and had committed three errors in their first six NCAA Tournament games.

“Every mistake we made they capitalized on and were able to expand on plays we didn’t make,” Esquer said. “It’s 3-0 before anyone can get settled into their seats. Every now and then you see a team that comes in and doesn’t play like themselves, and we were that team today.”

Beck (9-2) left with two outs in the sixth having allowed six runs, three earned, on seven hits. He walked two and struck out 10.

“There was a lot of pressure on their pitchers all game,” Butler said. “There were runners in scoring position, so he has to come to me. Their starter, he wasn’t missing by much — maybe one, and that was the one I was able to get out.”

The No. 9 Cardinal (38-16), who outscored Texas Tech 24-3 in a two-game super-regional sweep, were slow to get started against Johnston (9-3).

Johnston, who allowed seven runs in three innings in a 21-2 loss to Arkansas in NC State’s super regional opener last week, limited the Cardinal to Tim Tawa’s solo homer and a single through six innings.

Johnston wore down in the seventh. He allowed four straight hits, including Christian Robinson’s two-run homer inside the right-field foul pole, before closer Evan Justice came on with two runners on base and no outs. Stanford got another run when Vojtech Mensik couldn’t handle Tawa’s hard grounder to third with the bases loaded.

Butler singled for his fifth RBI during a four-run ninth inning for the Wolfpack, and Justice finished for his 12th save.

“Reid Johnston was Reid Johnston and Evan Justice was Evan Justice,” Avent said, “and some guys at the top of the lineup had some big days.”

The game ended on an unconventional double play. Pinch-hitter Carter Graham grounded to second, with J.T. Jarrett flipping the ball to Jose Torres covering the bag. Stanford’s Tommy Troy, running from first to second, didn’t slide on the play and was called for interference.

NC State, in its first CWS since 2013, plays Monday night against the winner of the Arizona-Vanderbilt game Saturday night. Stanford plays the Arizona-Vanderbilt loser Monday afternoon.

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