UNC Advances From Final Meeting With NCSU

Three of the five games between NC State and North Carolina this season were decided by at least six runs, and four of the five were decided by at least four runs. Outside of the 18-inning marathon in the ACC Tournament, the games were pretty dull, yet that didn’t lessen the excitement preceding them.

Of course, that has a lot to do with just how good both teams were this year. NC State finishes the year at 50-16, their first 50 win season in program history. They can also build on this experience for next season, when stars such as Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner will return for another year.

Meanwhile, North Carolina carries on, currently with a 59-11 record. They will have to defeat UCLA twice to advance to the College World Series championship series, but they will be able to claim final bragging rights in the rivalry for 2013.

There was plenty of grumbling on the internet when NC State announced it would be Rodon, not Brad Stone, taking the mound to start last night’s game against North Carolina. Rodon has dominated the Tar Heels (and many others) this season. The move ruffled feathers, as he had also pitched in Sunday’s opening round game, which NC State won 8-1.

Was Rodon, rather than the fully-rested Stone or Ethan Ogburn, the best choice for the game? Would they be better served using Rodon against UCLA, or did they need Rodon against UNC to prevent an exit? Did this move by NC State suggest they were more interested in beating the Tar Heels than winning a national championship?

Rodon pitched well, striking out six batters over five innings and allowing one earned run. However, junior Hobbs Johnson was better, pitching the best game of his career. The left-handed Johnson pitched 8 1/3 innings, striking out six batters and allowing five hits without a run.

Somewhat affirming to the decision to pitch Rodon was Stone’s performance out of the bullpen. The freshman was on the record for three earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, loading the bases in the eighth inning before coming out for Ryan Wilkins. Ultimately, Rodon gave NC State a chance to win, but Johnson’s dominance countered it.

The rivalry took a turn for the strange after North Carolina defeated South Carolina to clinch a spot against NC State to open the College World Series. UNC infielder Michael Russell engaged in a Twitter feud with American Idol Season Ten winner (and NC State student) Scotty McCreery, complete with shots at Russell’s line in their ACC Tournament meeting (0-for-7, three strikeouts) and the outcome of said game (North Carolina 2, NC State 1).

As the fates would have it, Russell was 1-for-3 with three runs batted in last night. Russell’s fly out in the fourth inning was just deep enough to allow Brian Holberton to score the game’s first run, while a two-RBI single in the eighth gave the Heels a 4-0 lead.

The passion of the rivalry was on display on Russell’s sacrifice fly. Right fielder Jake Fincher fired a bullet to catcher Brett Austin, but Holberton (batting fourth after a lineup change before Tuesday’s game against LSU) slid in under Austin’s tag.

Certain that Holberton could not have beaten the tag after Fincher’s throw, Austin and Rodon both slung caps and masks into the infield dirt, and coach Elliott Avent came charging from the dugout to protest the call (and possibly protect his starting pitcher and catcher from ejection). The umpire’s call was correct, and the emotion was real.

Now, North Carolina will turn attention to UCLA, and NC State will turn to next season. However, the memories made for fans and players this season from the rivalry will help both programs and make their future meetings even more dramatic.


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