OMAHA, Neb. – For nine innings Sunday afternoon, North Carolina watched
N.C. State ace Carlos Rodon do what he’s done to it all season — retire batters.
And although UNC has been able to overcome the left-hander’s effectiveness on the mound in both of the team’s last two meetings this season, its opening game in the first round of the College World Series ended a bit differently.
The Tar Heels struggled to find any offensive momentum — let alone the momentum needed to overcome a deficit that began in the first inning — and N.C. State won 8-1, sending UNC to the losers bracket.
“That’s what Carlos does well,” UNC outfielder Chaz Frank said. “He uses the slider very effectively, throws it better and controls it better than his fastball, and he feeds off that. And with power pitchers, you usually see them throw their fastball and use their fastball more, but (for) Carlos it’s his slider.”
Rodon began the game by walking Frank on four pitches, but a Tar Heel would not reach base again until the fifth inning, as the Wolfpack southpaw was pacing himself to a no-hitter until his third batter of that inning.
Brian Holberton came to the plate for North Carolina, which was behind 0-4 at that point, and sent a hit past the right side of the pitcher’s mound and into the outfield.
But what came in the next three innings made Holberton’s hit seem more like a pitching fluke than the ability of UNC’s offense to gain ground against Rodon.
“He had been pitching really well,” Holberton said. “That base hit maybe could have done something and started a few base hits, got a rally going. But it ended up not doing anything.”
Mike Zolk struck out swinging for the third out of the fifth inning, and then UNC went down in order in the sixth.
Cody Stubbs singled in the seventh inning, giving the North Carolina offense its second hit of the game, and advancing Colin Moran who’d been walked to first.
But Rodon erased the North Carolina threat by forcing Michael Russell into a 5-3 double play to end the inning.
After walking Frank to open the game, Rodon retired 14 UNC batters in order before giving up the single to Holberton in the fifth. The sophomore finished the game with 108 pitches and 74 strikes in his nine innings of work.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox said he expected a commanding performance from Rodon, and recognized that his team had been able to thwart the ace in the past through durable and matched pitching performances, rather than the ability of the offense to get hits.
“You can see his dominance today,” Fox said, “just how good that kid is, just complete dominance, really.”
Fox and pitching coach Scott Forbes inserted seven pitchers throughout the game to attempt to match Rodon on the mound. UNC’s bullpen didn’t allow runs in the fourth through the seventh inning, but Rodon’s signature performance was too much for the Tar Heels to overcome.
N.C. State’s Brett Austin joked after the game that his teammate’s performance was “subpar.” But the Tar Heel batters that faced Rodon knew his performance was anything but.
“Felt like he was doing basically the same he was doing earlier in the year,” Holberton said. “He was just a little bit more on than we were today.
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