Johnson, Heels stick with speed to oust NC State
Posted June 21, 2013
North Carolina pitching coach Scott Forbes walked up the tunnel with a youthful bounce. He came up to me with eyes as wide as a kid on Christmas morning. “Can you believe that,” he said. “All fastballs!”
Every single, solitary pitch that North Carolina’s Hobbs Johnson tossed at NC State Thursday night was a fastball. It got to the point that coach Mike Fox told catcher Brian Holberton to quit looking into the dugout for the signs.
Johnson laughed saying there were times in the game when Holberton didn’t even put down a sign. It was going to be fastball, fastball, fastball.
In his last start against the Wolfpack, that epic 18-inning marathon, Johnson said he may have thrown four or five sliders.
Not a one in Omaha.
The thinking was, with the wind blowing in from centerfield, there was no way a ball was going to fly out of TD Ameritrade Park. The normal pitching philosophy of keep it low and mix in some breakers was changed to spot the heater and use the upper part of the strike zone. Johnson pitched a career high 8 1/3 innings to help keep North Carolina alive in the College World Series.
Staying alive and staying around
Since the ACC Baseball Tournament, North Carolina has played in five elimination games and won all five.
Mike Fox points to solid senior leadership as well as a hatred of losing. “I walk in after a loss and there are some upset dudes,” Fox explained.
The Tar Heels will play their sixth game of elimination Friday against UCLA and would have to beat the Bruins twice to reach the CWS championship series.
But Fox pointed out that his team defeated Rice twice in the 2007 CWS to make it to the best-of-three title series.
There is a huge shift in momentum if Carolina can beat UCLA in the first meeting. That forces both teams to play what will be a season ender for one, and it’s hard to go against the Tar Heels right now with their season on the line.
This was a magical year for the Wolfpack, with a school record 50 wins and their first trip to Omaha since 1968.
Watching North Carolina go to the CWS in six of the last eight years made it a challenging neighborhood to live in. State needed to taste some of those Omaha steaks to raise the level of its program. Playing on the national stage will help their recruiting immensely.
They could have the overall number one pick next year already on their roster. Carlos Rodon will return to shatter Wolfpack pitching records, and I really like the play of Trea Turner. The future first rounder is smooth in the field, attacks at the plate and can flat out FLY! His instincts on the bases are phenomenal.
Contract extension for Elliott Avent
It’s also a huge boost to the Wolfpack program that Elliott Avent will return. Auburn was hotly pursuing Avent for the second time in the last few years. It was to the point that the Tigers wanted to talk with Avent while he was in Omaha, but Avent would have none of that. His focus was on his team and his love is for NC State. He and NC State AD Debbie Yow will soon sit down to discuss a contract extension. He has two years left on his current contract. Yow believes that Avent deserves more and that it will be taken care of.