As he has throughout his career, NC State sophomore Carlos Rodon dominated the Tar Heels. Rodon pitched a complete game, allowing five hits and one run while striking out eight North Carolina batters.
The Wolfpack offense also had a great game, similar to their 7-3 victory against the Tar Heels with Rodon on the mound in the regular season. Four runs came in the third inning, as Brett Austin, Grant Clyde, Brett Williams, and Bryan Adametz crossed the plate to give NC State a 5-0 lead.
The difference between that April game and Raleigh and Sunday’s win in Omaha was that those runs came against North Carolina ace Kent Emanuel. In that regular season series, Emanuel pitched eight innings, striking out nine batters and allowing one run. Sunday, Emanuel was gone after 2 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and five runs.
NC State’s reward for the victory is an easier path to the championship series. By avoiding an early demotion to the loser’s bracket, the Wolfpack is just two wins away from the best-of-three final. Winning Tuesday would give NC State two days off before playing against the survivor of the loser’s bracket, which will be determined the night before.
On Tuesday, NC State will face UCLA, who also defeated a higher-seeded team in LSU. Pinch runner Christoph Bono scored in the eighth inning thanks to an LSU error, giving the Bruins a decisive 2-1 lead.
Both NC State and UCLA have relied on strong pitching and defense to reach this point of the postseason. The two teams have allowed a matching 11 runs in six games thus far in the NCAA Tournament, as both swept their respective Regionals and Super Regionals. UCLA’s seven-game winning streak dating back to a regular series win against Stanford is tied for the longest active streak in the nation.
However, those successes also set the stage for the impending departure for either LSU or North Carolina. They will play an elimination game Tuesday, with the winner surviving for another two days and the loser returning home. The two teams combined for 114 wins this season and never dropped below sixth in the NCBWA rankings. Nonetheless, the pursuit of a national championship will end for one of them tomorrow.
To prevent that, both teams have altered their rotations in hopes of winning the game and prolonging their seasons. LSU will start the game with Cody Glenn (7-2, 2.41 ERA) on the mound. Glenn has just 37 strikeouts in 14 starts, but will make his first start of the NCAA Tournament after missing the Baton Rouge Regional with a suspension. The sophomore is likely getting the call due to North Carolina’s struggles against left-handed pitchers such as Glenn and Rodon throughout the season.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is calling on freshman Trent Thornton for the elimination game. Thornton began the year as a mid-week starter before moving into the UNC bullpen as a closer. The righty has been the best Tar Heel pitcher in the postseason, as all of the team’s regular starters have struggled in the NCAA Tournament.
If Thornton is successful and the Tar Heels can scrape together enough runs against the southpaw Glenn to defeat LSU, it will set up North Carolina to use regular starters Hobbs Johnson, Benton Moss, and Emanuel in their remaining three possible games of the double-elimination bracket. However, if Thornton gets in a jam or the Tar Heels need a reliever late in the game, their most reliable bullpen option will be unavailable. It’s the kind of risk/reward evaluation that comes with time in the loser’s bracket during the postseason.
UCLA is 5-1 against NC State, but the two teams haven’t met since 2006, when the Bruins swept the Wolfpack in Raleigh. UNC is 2-2 against LSU, with both losses coming in the 1990s. The Tar Heels defeated the Tigers twice during the 2008 College World Series, including an elimination game which UNC won 7-3 after a Tim Federowicz grand slam in the 9th inning.
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