Tar Heels prepare for familiar foe
After North Carolina defeated South Carolina 5-4 on Tuesday to qualify for the College World Series, the first thing UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes said when he came into the locker room was that he didn’t have to do a scouting report on the next opponent.
The Tar Heels are well acquainted with N.C. State — and especially sophomore lefthander Carlos Rodon, who they will face in their opener Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park (3 p.m., ESPN2) as UNC makes its sixth appearance in Omaha in eight years.
The Tar Heels have faced Rodon four times in his two seasons. Still, familiarity hasn’t exactly brought success. In 32.1 innings, Rodon has allowed just three earned runs (a 0.84 ERA), 19 hits and 10 walks, while striking out 43.
That includes two of the most impressive performances in ACC Tournament history — a nine-inning shutout in 2012 with 12 strikeouts and a 10-inning one hitter last month with 14 strikeouts.
Then again, UNC won three of those four games, including the two tournament contests.
“If you’re going to try to win a national championship, you have to beat somebody like Carlos Rodon,” Forbes said. “So if it’s right off the bat, it’s right off the bat.”
The Tar Heels have beaten Rodon by outlasting him with strong pitching of their own. In 2012, Benton Moss and three relievers posted 12 shutout innings until UNC’s offense finally came alive with four runs against N.C. State’s bullpen.
Rodon actually got some run support in the first meeting this season in Raleigh, and left in the seventh inning with a 7-0 lead and two runners on. Both those runners scored — representing two of the three earned runs Rodon has given up against UNC in his career — but N.C. State went on to win 7-3.
Then came the epic meeting on May 25 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, as the largest college baseball crowd in state history (11,392) saw the longest game in UNC and ACC Tournament history.
Rodon carried a no-hitter into the seventh, but the Tar Heels took advantage of two errors — including one by Rodon himself — to scratch out a run in the eighth and tie the game at 1-1. After 130 pitches and 10 innings, the sophomore had to leave the game, and UNC eventually would win 2-1 in 18.
Rodon kept his momentum going in the NCAA Tournament, throwing a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in the regional round against William & Mary and giving up three runs in 8.1 innings in game 1 of the super regionals against Rice, which N.C. State went on to win 4-3.
Still, the Holly Springs native wasn’t the ACC pitcher of the year. That award went to UNC junior Kent Emanuel (11-3, 2.93), who was just selected with the first pick in the third round of the MLB draft by the Houston Astros and is expected to start Sunday’s matchup.
After a stellar regular season, the Tar Heels lefty struggled in the postseason, allowing 14 runs and 18 hits in 12.1 innings. He recorded his shortest start of the season in the first game of the super regional against South Carolina on Saturday, giving up four runs in 2.1 innings. But Emanuel earned his first career save in Tuesday’s 5-4 win in game 3 by recording the final two outs on just two pitches.
“Rodon is who he is. He’s one of the best in the country,” Forbes said. “He’s a big-time contender. But we feel like our guy, he’s been known to match anybody. That’s exactly what (Emanuel) needed — two pitches to get him right back on track to where he wanted to be.”