Behind Rodon, N.C. State baseball team beats UNC

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Designated Hitter Landon Lassiter hits the ball.

RALEIGH — Maybe the best measurement of Carlos Rodon’s impact Saturday night was how quickly the game changed once he left it.

It was the 7th inning. There were two outs and two North Carolina runners on base, and through 6.2 innings of work, the N.C. State left-hander had mesmerized the Tar Heels with 10 strikeouts and no earned runs as the Wolfpack built a 7-0 lead. But Rodon had also thrown a laborious 128 pitches, and once he threw a first-pitch ball to first baseman Cody Stubbs, he gave way to left-hander Grant Sasser out of the bullpen.

A couple of pitches later, in the same at-bat, Stubbs deposited a ball over the right-field fence.

Rodon’s exit seemed to have given UNC a much-needed boost, but it all came too late.

Stubbs’ seventh-inning homer was the only scoring output for the No. 1 Tar Heels (41-4, 19-3 ACC) on the night, as they struggled to rally against the dominant Rodon in the 7-3 loss, leaving 14 runners on base.

“You get runners on, but (Rodon’s) still out there,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “He dialed it up a few times. You’re asking a lot against him trying to get three or four hits in a row.”

But UNC had its opportunities.

In the fourth inning, a Mike Zolk two-out single sent Colin Moran coming home. But as Moran ran over N.C. State catcher Brett Austin, Austin held onto the ball to end the inning and end the threat.

In the sixth inning, the Tar Heels loaded the bases against Rodon, but the sophomore reached back to put away pinch-hitter Tom Zengel and end the inning.

“That’s when the competitor comes out,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said of Rodon. “Good players bear down.”

Meanwhile, UNC starter Benton Moss had one of his roughest outings of the season in arguably his biggest start. He couldn’t pinpoint his fastball from the beginning, walking three batters, giving up eight hits and six runs — five earned — in his 4.1 innings.

The fourth inning was when it all unraveled: N.C. State scored three runs on three hits, a walk, a hit by pitch and a passed ball.

“Absolutely atrocious,” Moss (7-1) said of his first loss of the season. “It was a terrible outing. Curveball was good. Fastball, I couldn’t locate it to save my life, and that’s what killed me. Too many bases on balls. They took advantage of them.”

To be fair, Moss didn’t have much of a margin for error. Though Rodon (4-2, 4.48 ERA) hasn’t been as dominant this season as he was in his 2012 ACC Pitcher of the Year campaign, he entered the game leading the nation with 14.17 strikeouts per nine innings, and he flashed a mid-90s fastball and a sharp-biting slider.

Whoever matched up against him needed to be perfect.

“We needed to have a good outing against Rodon,” Fox said. “Runs are going to be hard to come by. We dug ourselves too deep a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.”

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