RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The decision to send North Carolina State home early from the College World Series over COVID-19 concerns came from the NCAA — not the local health department in Omaha, Nebraska.
While the championship final pitted Vanderbilt against Mississippi State in Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Monday night, there were still more questions than answers for the Wolfpack.
“It’s a challenge to put the pieces back together and kind of understand the decision process,” Tyler Highfill, the father of pitcher Sam Highfill, told CBS 17 News on Monday.
N.C. State’s elimination game against Vanderbilt on Saturday was declared a no-contest — with the Commodores advancing to the final series — due to COVID-19 protocols.
The NCAA initially said the decision — announced just after 2 a.m. ET Saturday — was reached based on the recommendation of the championship’s medical team and the Douglas County Health Department.
Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the health department, said in an email to CBS17.com Monday that his agency ultimately wasn’t responsible for the decision.
“They looked at the numbers — we told them it was their call, and we would support their decision either way,” Rooney said. “We DO NOT have the authority to send a team home from the series.”
NCAA spokesman Chris Radford also said that the decision to remove N.C. State came on the recommendation of the championship’s medical team to the Division I Baseball Committee.
Highfill says everyone associated with the program — players, coaches, parents and staff — have gone through a wide range of emotions over a 72-hour period.
“We’re kind of moving through those different stages of grief,” Highfill said. “Not wanting it to be the truth initially, and kind of that denial, and then maybe a little bit of anger, a little bit of frustration, and then, you know, kind of come to grips with it, and realize it’s time to move on.”
N.C. State athletic director Boo Corrigan said in a statement over the weekend that an unspecified number of players who tested positive for COVID-19 had been vaccinated.
CBS 17 requested an interview with Corrigan to ask a series of questions — among them, how many players on the team have been vaccinated, how many of them tested positive and was there a breakdown in communication between the school and the NCAA? — but school officials did not respond to that request in time.
Highfill says other parents have told him those vaccinated players who still wound up testing positive aren’t showing many — if any — symptoms.
“In the communication we’ve had with the parents, I think the other ones are doing fine,” he said.
Instead of finishing the season on the field in Omaha, the Wolfpack instead took the field in Raleigh after more than 1,000 fans greeted them at Doak Field on Saturday night.
The celebration provided some important catharsis for everyone involved with the program, Highfill said.
“I think that what that homecoming at (Doak Field) was was phenomenal,” Highfill said. “It was great to see the fans come out. I think it helped the players a lot. Hopefully, it helped the fans a little bit to kind of deal with their disappointment. So kind of a really neat event. But it’s been just the up-and-down roller coaster here last couple days.”