Inside Sunday's NC State win over UNC
Posted June 17, 2013
Omaha, Neb. — In a good comedy, you need to watch it about three times to fully appreciate the subtleties of all the jokes. In any baseball game, three views will make you appreciate the subtleties of the chess-match on dirt.
So, after arguably the biggest Triangle baseball game to date – arguably, and yes, the teams are likely to meet again in an elimination situation later in the week – I went back and watched it a couple more times and came out with a few takeaways.
First, and perhaps most obvious, was the Rodon-factor and the changing approach that the UNC hitters took.
In the first inning, Chaz Frank drew a four-pitch walk and the Tar Heels made Carlos Rodon throw 18 pitches. But then, Rodon settled down. He retired the next 14 hitters and was ahead in the count on 12 of them. It was clear that UNC wanted to see pitches, but with Rodon throwing first-pitch strikes, it became more difficult to see pitches.
Five of Rodon’s eight strikeouts came the first time through the order – further detailing UNC’s urge to swing later in the game, deviating from their initial approach that was not working so long as Rodon kept pumping the zone.
By the fifth inning, Rodon was ahead of schedule on pitch-count and still working on a no-hitter. When the order came through the second time, Rodon relied more and more on the first-pitch fastball and his pace on the mound slowed. However, instead of slowing their approach with the tides of the game, UNC became more anxious, and began jumping at first pitches so as not to fall behind.
UNC put the first or second pitch into play 12 times Sunday – all came after the first inning and two resulted in double plays.
Rodon, who gave up a run in the ninth, had a much tougher seventh inning. It was the first time two Tar Heels had reached base and with two on and one out, Rodon took a walk around the mound to compose himself. The Lefty from Holly Springs promptly got ahead of Michael Russell 0-1 and then induced an inning-ending double play.
In the final two innings, Rodon went back to the slider as his out pitch. In the eighth, Brian Holberton recorded his second hit on a fastball up. The next batter, Alex Raburn, grounded into a double play on an 0-1 slider. Seven of Rodon’s eight strikeouts also came on sliders. That is in direct contrast with his outing in the super regional when eight of his nine K's came on fastballs.
Rodon had just four three-ball counts all game, two were in the first inning.
Essentially, Rodon took the long count out of play all game by finding the zone. Of his 108 pitched on the day, 74 were thrown for strikes.
Secondly, NC State not only produced with two outs, they spread the wealth in doing so. UNC did not.
Through three innings, NC State was 5-for-8 with a double, walk and hit-by-pitch in 2-out at-bats and had produced five runs. For the game, NC State scored six 2-out runs and seven different players had a run batted in.
UNC sent just three batters to the plate in six of the nine innings and had just one two out hit all game.
But run production isn’t accomplished without great at-bats. Even after chasing UNC starter Kent Emanuel after just 2.2 innings, NC State put together quality AB’s up and down the order. In the grind innings, they were hit by five pitches, forced UNC to use a College World Series-tying eight different pitchers and had six outs where a runner moved up an additional 90 feet.
The Wolfpack motto all year has been “90 feet” and their offense exemplified it Sunday.
Thirdly, UNC’s pitching was an unorganized mess.
Kent Emanuel was not a third-round caliber pitcher and hasn’t been for much of the postseason. His frame is high, his release point is all over the place, his ball has no movement and he is constantly up in the zone with under-achieving velocity. He has also distinctly lacked an out pitch.
In the first inning Sunday, Tarran Senay’s RBI single was on a 2-strike pitch with two outs. He later hit Grant Clyde in the first on a 2-2 pitch. Jake Armstrong’s single in the second was with two strikes. In the third, Brett Austin started the rally with a two-strike double.
That is unacceptable from a front-line starter.
As the game moved on, the Tar Heels used seven more pitchers, forcing Chris McCue into 2.1 innings of work with 43 pitches and Chris Munnelly into 2 innings with 22 pitches. It took Taylor Cherry 19 pitches to get through one-third of an inning and Trevor Kelley 13 to do the same.
The saving grace? UNC did not use Benton Moss, Hobbs Johnson or Trent Thornton. Thornton will get the start Tuesday against LSU and will need to eat some innings if UNC plans on playing into the weekend.
Finally, and perhaps the simplest thing of all, is NC State played with a lead.
No team, since the College World Series moved from the famed Rosenblatt Stadium to the downtown TD Ameritrade, has won after trailing after 8 innings. They are a perfect 28-0. And dating back to Rosenblatt, CWS teams have won 44 in a row when taking a lead into the ninth.