OMAHA, Neb. — Louisiana State coach Paul Mainieri thought his southpaw starter, Cody Glenn, had retired North Carolina’s Brian Holberton with a third strike.
If the umpire behind home plate had called Glenn’s fifth pitch to Holberton from Mainieri’s point of view, the top of the first inning would have ended with no UNC runs and Colin Moran left on first base.
And the batter — who was batting fourth in the Tar Heel lineup, instead of his season-standard seventh — questioned the 2-2 call, too.
“I was like ‘Where’d you have that pitch?,’ and (the umpire) knew which one I was talking about,” Holberton said. “He was like, ‘I had it pretty good out.’”
But Holberton didn’t question the call twice.
“I was like, ‘Good, keep doing that,’” he said.
Holberton fouled off the next pitch before he knocked the seventh one over the right centerfield wall and out of TD Ameritrade Park to give UNC the 2-0 lead.
“(Chaz Frank) came back in (the dugout) and said that the ball was running back in on him,” Holberton said. “So, when I got up there I was thinking if (Glenn) throws one, you’ve got to try to pull.
“I swung over … I think it was the second strike … and after that I told myself, ‘He’s going to try and throw a two-seamer in, so just don’t get beat in,’ and he threw it in and I put a good swing on it.”
Cody Stubbs reached first base after being hit by a pitch and before being tagged out at second off Skye Bolt’s fielder’s choice.
But the 2-0 first-inning lead gave UNC an opportunity to do something it hasn’t done much in the postseason.
“I thought the home run by Brian was really crucial for us, just kind of let the air out a little bit,” coach Mike Fox said. “And playing with a lead (was) something we seemed to haven’t done in a while. So that was good.”
The home run also complimented the change to the batting lineup, giving North Carolina a bigger advantage than just the intended benefit of having two right-handed batters —Bolt and Michael Russell — in a row.
“It made the move look good, but it wasn’t me,” Fox said. “Brian’s been in that position before. We felt we needed to move some things around a little bit … and having Brian in there, he can do a lot of things for us besides hit a home run.”
Holberton’s utility hitting helped UNC extend its lead in the seventh inning.
With Moran on first base in the seventh, Fox told Holberton to lay down a sacrifice bunt. The call worked, and the resulting 1-3 out bumped Moran to second.
Bolt then singled to left field to score Moran and complete the offensive play, giving the Tar Heels a 4-1 lead.
“(Holberton) can hit and run, and he can bunt, and he can do a lot of things for us,” Fox said. “Paid off today, he did well.”
The lineup change was, “just for the sake of just change,” Fox said, and it was a shake up that benefitted both players who were moved.
Bolt and Holberton each got two hits in four at-bats, and the pair combined for three of UNC’s four RBIs.
“I really just reverted back to what got me here,” said Bolt, who was 2-for-16 in his last four games in his usual cleanup spot. “That was staying tall and taking what the pitcher was giving me, instead of trying to drive some extra base hits there in the four hole.”
The lineup change allowed the freshman to turn in a performance at the plate reminiscent of his early season dominance. The change also contributed to Holberton’s hit and home run, further boosting the junior’s .406 batting average.
The move suggested, perhaps, just how well the North Carolina coaching staff knows the players on the team that has earned the most wins, 58, in school program history.
“(It was) just sort of gut,” Fox said of the swap. “I kind of talked to coach (Scott) Jackson a little bit, just felt we needed to make a change. “
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