Adam Gold

Nine seconds swung Carolina's CWS hopes

Posted June 21, 2013

Even the great philosopher Meat Loaf recognized the significance of one of sports' signature moments.

"Here's the throw, here's the play at the plate. Holy Cow, I think he's gonna make it…"

Baseball, like most sports, is essentially a succession of individual moments, some more significant than others. Last night, with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fourth inning, one of the most significant moments in the college baseball season unfolded in front of our eyes and it determined the fate of one team and allowed the other a chance at one more game.

Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State's left-handed ace, who demanded the ball on three days rest from his coach Elliott Avent, was at times dominant and at times sketchy. Through the first three innings, Rodon was mostly himself, allowing just two hits and striking out six, but Carolina did have scoring threats in the first and third innings that the future No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft was able to negotiate.

Would he be able to do it again, however, in the fourth?

It's not often in baseball, or in sports for that matter, that on a given play or a given moment everyone involved does his job to perfection. But, with the Tar Heels mounting their biggest threat in their last three games against the Wolfpack southpaw, the stars aligned to give us exactly that. Michael Russell stood in against Rodon with the most significant base runner of UNC's season, catcher Bryan Holberton, 90 feet from a 1-0 lead.

Rarely though, has 30 yards seemed so far away, even as Carolina's shortstop lifted a 1-1 pitch in the direction of NC State right fielder Jake Fincher. The only question was: Would it be deep enough to score the run?

That Rodon even was on the mound Thursday night was somewhat of a surprise, though in retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have been. Since making the second of his (now) 34 career starts in a Wolfpack uniform, Rodon had never even pitched on four days rest let alone the three he would take with him to the bump in an elimination game at the College World Series. Yet, you could absolutely understand why, with their season nine innings from extinction, Carlos would want -- maybe even need -- to have the fate of his team in his left hand.

Fincher drifted back and eased over towards the right field line. Though he was moving away from his target, he was able to plant and uncork a laser beam of a throw that reached catcher Brett Austin on the fly.

To illustrate the challenge placed in front of North Carolina heading into the game Thursday night, one only needs to list their troubles in solving Rodon over his five career starts against the Heels. Rodon, who in general has dominated everyone, was even better when opposing his biggest rival. Prior to Thursday, Rodon had worked 41 1/3 innings and allowed just seven runs, only four them earned. That's a 0.87 earned run average if you're keeping score at home. On top of that, before Sunday's 8-1 Wolfpack win in their first College World Series showdown, Rodon had never allowed a run-scoring hit to Carolina. He'd also struck out 51 batters, while allowing just 24 hits and walking 12 in compiling a 2-0 record in those starts.

To their credit, however, the Tar Heels had managed to win three of those five games, so it's not as though all hope was lost. But, they still had to figure out a way to break through against Rodon when it mattered. And, with Holberton charging down the third base line and Fincher's throw from right field in the air, nothing mattered more than this moment in Omaha.

Austin caught the ball and pivoted towards Holberton, who had already started a head-first slide just to the right of home plate. Austin did everything right, his left foot blocking the Carolina base runner from a clear path to the game's first run, and it appeared that Fincher's incredible throw would maintain the scoreless tie and allow Rodon to escape a dangerous situation for the third time in the first four innings.

Sometimes though, the other guy is just a little bit better, and when Holberton leaned just enough to the right side of the plate, pulled his left arm back and out of the reach of the Wolfpack catcher and juuust managed to swipe his right hand across home plate ahead of Austin's tag, the home plate umpire, Joe Burleson, signaled "safe," and North Carolina had the only run they were going to need to see a third straight elimination game Friday night.

Russell did what he had to do, he put the ball in play into the outfield, giving his team a chance to break through on the scoreboard. Fincher responded in kind, unleashing a throw from right that former Pirates' star Dave Parker would have been proud to call his own. Austin gathered the ball and, with no wasted motion, turned to apply the tag. However, the final move in this State vs. Carolina chess match of a moment belonged to Holberton, whose slight of hand allowed him to execute one of the best slides you will ever see, leaving it up to the man behind the plate to render judgment on the play and quite possibly, the season. And Burleson got the call right.

Nine seconds in time, in Omaha, in the most significant baseball game ever played between these two schools, with, quite possibly, the best pitcher in Wolfpack history on the mound trying to carry his team past their arch nemesis, and everyone did their job to perfection.

However, in sports, there can only be one winner. Thursday night, in the fourth inning, with the college baseball world watching, Holberton's slide -- and Burleson's correct call -- was just a little bit better than Fincher's throw, and it was enough to allow the Tar Heels to live for another day. 

16 Comments

Please to add a comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • scousler Jun 25, 8:17 a.m.

    I think UNC's achilles heel was way too many left handed batters who don't hit left handed pitchers well. Almost comical to see how inept most of them were against a good curveball... several may have gotten MLB contracts but they will need much work before they are ever ready to play there.

  • StunGunn Jun 21, 7:52 p.m.

    UNC and NC State have played great baseball all season and the gamesagainst each other were all... View More

    — Posted by TeaBagOnLove

    Very well said!

  • Alex25 Jun 21, 7:41 p.m.

    How can anything sports wise UNC-CH does be viewed objectively - ?? Everything they do athletically is about Cheating...or is tainted by Cheating. H Johnson (pitcher) did NOT belong anywhere near a baseball field.

  • The Greatest Ever Jun 21, 7:09 p.m.

    All I can say is go Heels! We rule!

  • mojaintsmall Jun 21, 6:49 p.m.

    Another useless piece of journalistic drivel and calling anything that hack gold writes as being journalistic is beyond a reach. How that tool gets paid for his useless opinion is a cluster frack.

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Jun 21, 6:34 p.m.

    The most important thing about the game was that Hobbs Johnson stole Rodon's cookies

  • The Rameses Ultimatum Jun 21, 6:18 p.m.

    The section of the Meatloaf song that you quote is not actually Meatloaf saying the words.....it... View More

    — Posted by mroljill

    #Dominationofatalkshowhost!

  • TeaBagOnLove Jun 21, 6:18 p.m.

    UNC and NC State have played great baseball all season and the gamesagainst each other were all hard fought. Rivalry aside,these teams made each other play better and win/lose they both have a lot to be proud about.

  • 123dnih Jun 21, 5:50 p.m.

    5 hits, 0 runs against a guy who only threw fastballs and changeups?...Pretty poor hitting is what doomed State.

  • Hokies94 Jun 21, 4:42 p.m.

    Nine sec of trouble for NCSU was Tuesday against UCLA. The error by UCLA's outfielder's throw... View More

    — Posted by NCSU84

    Totally agree. Base error cost them dearly.

More...

 

 

  • ACC: Clemson at NC State

    Wednesday at 9:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • ACC: NC State at Georgia Tech

    Saturday at 12:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Arkansas at Florida

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: Pro Bowl

    Tonight at 8:00 on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
STJ 68
DUKE 77
Half
NCSU 42
ND 30
 
Final
CHI 84
MIA 96
Final
CLE 108
OKC 98
Half
NOP 61
DAL 56
 
Half
ORL 49
IND 51
 
Half
PHO 57
LAC 55
 
Half
ATL 61
MIN 47
 
1st
TOR 16
DET 9
 
1st
SAN 12
MIL 13
 
8:00pm Tonight
GSW
BOS
8:00pm Tonight
DEN
WAS
9:30pm Tonight
LAL
HOU
Final
UCONN 66
SFLA 53
Final
GT 62
BC 64
Final
VT 47
UVA 50
Final
OSU 82
IND 70
Final
UCF 46
CIN 56
Final
WICHS 74
DRAK 40
Final
STJ 68
DUKE 77
Final
MAR 73
FAIR 67
 
Final
HART 61
MAINE 70
 
Final
MAN 71
MON 64
 
Final
PRIN 96
ROWAN 48
 
Final
SIENA 55
PETE 69
 
Final
RIU 53
BONA 48
Final
BING 54
USB 61
 
Final
MLOWELL 50
VERM 61
 
Final
BUT 77
SHU 57
Final
SALA 55
YALE 72
 
Final
PITT 68
LOU 80
Final
ILLST 53
NIOWA 54
Final
GTDNS 69
UMBC 55
 
Final
IONA 87
NIAG 64
 
1st
TENST 25
BEL 16
 
Half
NCSU 42
ND 30
 
1st
VILL 15
CREI 4
 
7:30pm Tonight
MD
NW
8:30pm Tonight
UTAH
WASH
2nd Intermission
TEAMFOLI 8
TEAMTOEWS 11
 
8:15pm Tonight
CARTER
IRVIN