The Bulldogs have had the luck and everything else it takes to make a deep run. A symbol of the team’s run this season has been the rally banana — which started as a snack and transitioned into good luck charm with team success on June 3. Both UNC and Mississippi State have been hot lately on its respective runs back to Omaha for the first time since 2013, but the streaks can't both continue. Someone's luck has to run out.
Working in the favor of the Bulldogs is that they haven’t had to stretch nearly as deep into the bullpen as the Tar Heels did in game one.
The UNC starter Gianluca Dalatri came out in the first inning on Saturday after injuring his throwing arm and the bullpen had to rescue the team. Caden O’Brien, Brett Daniels, Joey Lancellotti, Josh Hiatt and Cooper Criswell — the meat of the team’s relief — all pitched to win game one. Mississippi State, by comparison, pitched the starter Ethan Small seven innings against Washington, then used an inning from J.P. Frances and partial innings from Cole Gordon and Zach Neff, while UNC burned through Criswell, the expected starter against the Bulldogs before the plan was derailed.
After a four hour and 24 minute opening game, the longest contest in College World Series history, the Tar Heels will overextend its arms and fizzle out at this rate. And with the pitching staff as a potential area of strength for Mississippi State, several other factors could begin to fall into place over UNC.
The Bulldogs enter Monday’s contest with outfielder Jake Mangum leading the way from the dish. Mangum had two clutch hits in the last game, extending a hit streak to 14 games to help his team. He entered play in Omaha hitting .353 with a .484 slugging percentage and 33 runs batted in. Infielder Rowdey Jordan isn’t too far behind, hitting .333 until the last game with 35 RBIs and a .548 slugging percentage.
With a solid lineup behind the team's two best hitters, no rally or game has been too far out of reach for the Bulldogs. And with the threat of a big inning, big rally or clutch hit, the Tar Heels own best qualities could be their demise against a team with a similar resume.
Austin Bergner, who last pitched in a 19-11 win over Houston in the Regional, is the probable starter for the Tar Heels in game two. If batters can get ahead on him early and power onto the bullpen with big hits, the team won't have as many arms to pull it out of the jam for the second game in a row.
Although any defensive advantages could be taken away from the North Carolina offense. Michael Busch is on a 34-game reached-base streak, and has had 10 hits so far in the NCAA tournament that have put his team on top. Zack Gahagan, who is hitting 10-22 in the postseason, now has an eight-game hit streak.
Of course, the resumes of the team — and the trends of the contest — cannot take into account the potential value of big innings both teams have had to this point.
UNC might be headed for trouble with pitching and Mississippi State might not be able to continue pulling out the close games, but both of those factors might not matter in the end.
It could all come down, stats, projections and all, to which of the nation's hottest teams finds that crucial big inning first, and which one's luck just might be running out in game two.
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