Bruins end Tar Heels’ run in College World Series
North Carolina had come back from two runs down in the ninth and three runs down in the 12th in an elimination game against Florida Atlantic in the regionals.
The Tar Heels had won two one-run games against South Carolina in the super regionals. They had beaten N.C. State ace Carlos Rodon and No. 4 LSU in elimination games at the College World Series.
Friday night, the tightrope act through the NCAA Tournament finally came to an end against UCLA.
After generating no offense through eight innings, the Tar Heels loaded the bases with no outs against Bruins closer David Berg, who came in with the lowest ERA in the country (0.85) and 23 saves, tied for the most in Division I history.
UNC got an RBI groundout by Mike Zolk, but Parks Jordan struck out and Landon Lassiter flied out to give UCLA the 4-1 victory at TD Ameritrade Park.
“What we did in the ninth inning is just indicative of our kids and how we played all year,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “Just fighting until the very end. …(I’m) sorry for our season to come to an end, but I'm glad it ended here at Omaha. That's for sure."
The Tar Heels (59-12) set a program record with 59 wins and received the No. 1 overall seed but needed two more to make the championship series and four more to win their first national title.
UCLA (47-17) and Mississippi State (51-18), both 3-0 in Omaha, will meet in the best-of-3 championship series starting Monday.
The Tar Heels finally got the postseason start they had expected all along from ACC pitcher of the year Kent Emanuel. It still wasn’t nearly enough, as UNC was shut down by UCLA’s powerful blend of shutdown defense and opportunistic offense.
UCLA sophomore Grant Watson (9-3) — the seventh straight lefthanded starter the lefty-heavy Tar Heels lineup has faced — allowed four hits over six shutout innings.
Senior Cody Stubbs (3-for-3) and freshman Landon Lassiter (3-for-5) combined for six of UNC’s seven hits. But the rest of the lineup struggled against Watson and three relievers as the Tar Heels, who were third in the country in scoring average (7.9), were held to one run or fewer for the third time in six games.
The Bruins left the bases loaded twice against Emanuel (11-5) but scored their first run on three singles in the second and another after an error by Stubbs at first base that the leadoff man to reach in the sixth. Pat Valaika sealed the win with a two-run double after the bullpen issued two walks in the seventh.
It was a typical game for UCLA, which ranks 261st out of 298 Division I teams in batting average. The top seven players in UNC’s lineup all have better averages than the Bruins’ leading hitter, Pat Gallagher (.283).
Still, UCLA found a way to create just enough offense in a pair of 2-1 wins in Omaha against LSU and N.C. State. The Bruins scored two unearned runs against the Tigers, then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch against the Wolfpack.
UCLA’s three runs allowed through three games at the CWS is the fewest in the aluminum bat era, which started in 1974.
“It’s Bruin baseball,” Coach John Savage said after the N.C. State game. “Sometimes it’s grueling, and it’s tough to watch, I’m sure. Our kids hung in there. We were opportunistic. It’s like walking a tightrope, that’s for sure.”
But UNC was the team on the ultimate tightrope this week, needing to win four elimination games in five days to make it to the championship series after losing the opener to N.C. State and ace Carlos Rodon.
Emanuel took the loss in that one, allowing five runs in 2.2 innings. That was part of a rough postseason for the junior, who was picked in the third round by the Houston Astros in this month’s MLB draft but had allowed 19 runs in 15 innings during the NCAA Tournament.
Still, freshman Trent Thornton and junior Hobbs Johnson pitched the Tar Heels past LSU and N.C. State, respectively, to continue UNC’s season and give Emanuel another chance.
Emanuel responded by allowing five hits in six innings, striking out seven, but the Tar Heels couldn’t provide any run support.
UNC coach Mike Fox had said earlier this week that walks were a death sentence because of the spacious dimensions of TD Ameritrade Park. Sure enough, relievers Chris McCue and Tate Parrish both walked the first batters they faced after Emanuel left, and both came around to score on Valaika’s double.
Those proved some insurance when the Tar Heels finally struck in the ninth. Zolk’s groundout got UNC on the board, but Jordan struck out, and after Chaz Frank walked, Lassiter’s fly ball ended it with ACC player of the year Colin Moran on the on-deck circle.
It was likely the last game for Emanuel and four of the top five hitters in UNC’s lineup. Moran was picked sixth overall, while Frank and Stubbs are seniors and clean-up hitter Brian Holberton was taken in the ninth round.
UCLA 4, UNC 1
Frank cf|4|0|0|0|Carroll cf|3|1|0|0
Lassiter dh|5|0|3|0|Kramer 3b|3|0|0|0
Moran 3b|4|0|0|0|Filia rf|3|2|0|0
Holberton c|3|0|0|0|Valaika ss|3|0|1|2
Stubbs 1b|3|1|3|0|Gallagher 1b|4|1|2|0
Bolt rf|4|0|1|0|Williams dh|4|0|2|1
Russell ss|2|0|0|0|Zeile c|3|0|0|0
Zolk 2b|4|0|0|1|Regis 2b|3|0|1|1
Jordan lf|4|0|0|0|Bono lf|1|0|0|0
E—Stubbs. DP—UCLA 1. LOB—UNC 10, UCLA 8. 2B—Valaika. S—Kramer, Valaika.
HBP—by Watson (Holberton); by Kaprielian (Russell). T—3:33. A—25,947.