UNC-NCSU Rivalry Renews In Omaha

North Carolina and NC State will meet in the first round of the College World Series.
North Carolina and NC State will meet in the first round of the College World Series.

In one sense, the North Carolina-NC State meeting in the first round of the College World Series will be a familiar battle of conference and in-state rivals. In another sense, it will also be a matchup two years in the making.

After reaching their second consecutive Super Regional and their first College World Series since 1968, NC State is at one of its highest points in program history. Their rise to one of the best teams in the ACC, alongside a North Carolina squad that has been to Omaha six of the last eight years, has elevated interest in college baseball in the Triangle.

When the two teams met in last year’s ACC Tournament, a Wolfpack win would have earned them a spot in the conference title game. With nothing on the line for the Tar Heels except for pride, the two teams battled to a scoreless tie through eleven innings in front of a crowd of 10,229 fans at Greensboro’s NewBridge Bank Park. In the 12th inning, North Carolina scored four runs to claim the 4-0 win.

In five regular season matchups over the last two seasons, the Tar Heels have won three games. The two teams split the pair of regular season games in 2013, with the rubber match of the series rained out after being slated for marquee prime-time billing on ESPNU.

The rivalry renewed again in this year’s ACC Tournament, and again a massive crowd turned out for an extra-inning battle. 11,392 fans packed the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the ACC Championship against Virginia Tech. Like the year before, NC State ace Carlos Rodon dominated UNC batters, but couldn’t get run support to secure the win. Instead, the game carried into the wee hours of Sunday morning, until Cody Stubbs singled to score Landon Lassiter in the top of the 18th to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 win.

With seven games against each other in the past two seasons, including those two drama-filled ACC Tournament meetings, the rivals are very familiar with each other. However, none of those seven games featured the pitching match-up fans have pined for on both sides of the feud: Rodon vs. Emanuel.

Emanuel and Rodon have won the last two ACC Pitcher of the Year awards. Rodon earned the honor as a freshman in 2012, posting a 1.57 earned run average and striking out 135 batters. Rodon increased his strikeout tally to 137 by the end of the 2013 regular season but his ERA also jumped up to 3.86 with a couple of uncharacteristic outings. Meanwhile, Emanuel logged a 2.28 earned run average in the 2013 regular season to back up his 1.96 ERA from 2012, striking out 79 batters to that point. Emanuel has struggled over the last month, with his ERA now up to 2.93 as a result, while Rodon has struck out 33 batters and allowed just three earned runs and six hits over 27 1/3 innings in his last three starts.

With Rodon typically pitching Saturdays in the regular season and North Carolina relying on Emanuel in early games in both ACC Tournaments, the two aces have not faced each other. With the high stakes of the CWS opener, the long-anticipated pairing is finally coming to fruition.

Since 1988, the College World Series has divided its eight participants into two four-team double elimination brackets, with the pair of winners meeting in a championship game or series. Thus, a team that loses in the first round must win four games against three of the best teams in the nation just to reach the championship bout. In the 25 years of this format, only five teams have reached the championship after losing their first game, with three of those five teams winning the title (1998 Southern California, 2006 Oregon State, 2010 South Carolina).

Thus, the excitement surrounding Saturday’s game will be unparalleled: Bitter rivals meeting on college baseball’s most hallowed stage, with a win crucial and a loss crippling to the chances of winning a national championship. North Carolina may be known as a basketball state, but there will be plenty of Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans turning their televisions to baseball on Father’s Day.

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