For a time, NC State looked to all the world like That F'n Team. We all know them when we see 'em -- the group that putters around for most of the season before catching fire when it matters. Right before our eyes, they transform from an average outfit into one touched by God Himself.
This Wolfpack team found itself 1-8 in ACC play on March 21. They would rebound to finish second in their division and reached the ACC tournament championship, but the NCAA selection committee seeded them second in Louisiana Tech's regional -- equivalent to somewhere between a No. 5 and a No. 8 seed in the basketball tournament.
They swept through the Ruston regional, but their reward for that was a trip to Fayetteville to face No. 1 Arkansas. Game 1 of the 3-game set went to the Razorbacks -- 21-2.
From there, though, NC State became a Madden computer opponent when the game determines it's going to win no matter what.
The Pack rallied to beat Arkansas twice in a row, 6-5 in Game 2 and 3-2 in Game 3, won on a homer in the top of the ninth.
That sent NC State to the College World Series for just the third time in program history (2013 and 1968 being the others), but they weren't just happy to step foot in Omaha.
They bashed No. 9 Stanford 10-4 in the opener, then out-dueled No. 4 Vanderbilt in the winner's bracket game, beating possible No. 1 pick in next month's MLB draft, Jack Leiter, in a 1-0 final.
Because of all that, NC State entered Friday afternoon's game with Vanderbilt one win from their first CWS finals. So long as they had a team available to play.
Friday's game, scheduled to begin just after 1 p.m. local time in Omaha, was paused and then delayed an hour because a number of Wolfpack were put into healthy and safety protocols.
We don't know the exact number, but we did know the number of players available to play: 13.
We have no idea who among NC State's baseball program has been vaccinated and who has not, but we do know the NCAA's virus protocols exempt the vaccinated from testing.
Pack head coach Elliott Avent told reporters after their win over Vanderbilt on Monday that a bug had been working its way through the team.
Perhaps it was the virus that's upended the entire world over the past 18 months, perhaps it was something else. Perhaps NC State is just particularly unlucky and a number of the virus managed to elude the vaccine and produce symptoms in a number of vaccinated players. Maybe this is all a big understanding and everyone is cleared to play tomorrow and/or in the championship series, beginning Monday. Maybe NC State wins today anyway.
We just don't know.
But we do know that being vaccinated is a competitive advantage in sports, and right now NC State is attempting to win the biggest game in program history with a pitcher playing first base.
Update: Vanderbilt won 3-1 on Friday, setting up a winner-to-the-finals, loser-goes-home elimination game on Saturday. But early Saturday morning, the NCAA declared Saturday's game a no-contest, sending Vanderbilt to the CWS Finals and NC State back to Raleigh.
According to D1Baseball, two unvaccinated players tested positive for COVID-19, triggering a testing round for the entire team. Four vaccinated players tested positive -- all of whom played Friday. This would've placed NC State under the minimum number of available players, leading the NCAA to cancel Saturday's game.