UNC beats N.C. State in 18 innings
It seemed impossible to top last year’s showdown between North Carolina and N.C. State at the ACC Tournament, which the Tar Heels won in 12 innings in front of a record crowd.
But it happened.
The two rivals, both ranked in the Top 10, played the longest game in UNC baseball and ACC Tournament history in front of a crowd of 11,392 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the largest ever to see a college baseball game in the state.
As Saturday turned to Sunday, it was still unclear who would face No. 6 seed Virginia Tech in today’s championship game (1 p.m., ESPN2).
Six hours after it started, Cody Stubbs’ bloop single scored Landon Lassiter in the top of the 18th as top-seeded UNC beat No. 4 N.C. State 2-1 to advance to the final for the first time since 2007.
Of course, the drama didn’t end after Lassiter scored. Brett Williams reached third base with no outs but N.C. State couldn’t get the tying run in against Chris Munnelly (6-0).
That was par for the course for the Wolfpack (44-14), who loaded the bases three times but failed to score. The Tar Heels (51-8), second in the nations in scoring, weren’t much better. They had runners in scoring position in the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th before finally punching the winning run across.
Two pitchers went 6.2 innings without allowing a hit – N.C. State starter Carlos Rodon and UNC reliever Trent Thornton.
ACC player of the year Colin Moran went 0-for-7 for the Tar Heels and teammate Landon Lassiter, a .354 hitter, struck out in his first five at-bats. They were hardly alone in their struggles – the teams combined for 16 hits, with UNC going 6-for-61 at the plate.
At first, the game took on a similar tone to last year’s ACC Tournament contest, when UNC survived nine shutout innings from Rodon before pulling out the win.
Rodon was equally as effective this time. The sophomore retired the first 13 batters and had a no-hitter through 6.2 innings. The nation’s strikeout leader fanned 14 and allowing one hit and two walks in 10 innings, throwing 130 pitches.
But he was matched by the combination of Hobbs Johnson and Thornton. Johnson gave up one run in 5.1 innings, striking out nine and extending his streak to 14 starts without a loss this season. Thornton came in and allowed just two walks in 6.2 innings, striking out seven. Chris McCue and Munnelly then pitched three innings each to keep the game going.
N.C. State got on the board in the sixth with back-to-back doubles by Tarran Senay and Grant Clyde, which ended Johnson’s night. UNC went to Thornton with one out, and he struck out the next two batters to leave Clyde at second and keep the score 1-0.
It was clear UNC would need help get a run across, and it came in the eighth. Mike Zolk walked and Parks Jordan reached on the second fielding error of the night by Clyde, the third baseman, putting runners on second and first with one out.
Speedy Chaz Frank then hit a grounder to first baseman Tarran Senay, who thought about throwing to second. As a result, Rodon hesitated before covering first and failed to catch Senay’s flip to the bag, allowing Zolk to tie the game at 1-1.
When Rodon finally left, Chaz Frank met reliever Grant Sasser with a leadoff single and went to second on a balk. But Sasser struck out UNC’s 2-4 hitters.
No one on either team reached until Frank came up again, with two outs in the 13th. This time Frank doubled to left-center and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Colin Moran’s fly ball was caught on the warning track in front of the Blue Monster in left field.
N.C. State had its own chance in the bottom of the 13th, loading the bases with one out. But McCue struck out Clyde and then got Williams to swing at ball four, ensuring UNC would play past midnight for the second straight day.
The Tar Heels had wrapped up their previous game, a 14-inning win over Clemson, at 12:24 a.m. Saturday morning.
It turned out it was just a warm-up.
Clyde also struck out with the bases loaded to end the 17th inning, setting the stage for UNC to win.
Lassiter led off with a walk against Chris Overman (1-1), who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 22.2 innings. He moved to second when Moran was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on a bunt by Skye Bolt and finally scored on Stubbs’ blooper off of Will Gilbert, who had pitched 5.2 innings this season.
Williams doubled to lead off the bottom of the 18th and reached third on a wild pitch, but was left standing there as the game ended at 1:51 a.m.
NOTES – Virginia Tech (38-19) went 3-0 in Pool B to make its first ACC Tournament final. … The crowd topped the mark of 10,229 set during last year’s ACC Tournament meeting between the teams in Greensboro. It was also the second-largest crowd in DBAP history, behind the 11,674 who saw the Bulls beat Gwinnett in an International League game on July 4, 2010. … N.C. State matched the longest game in its history. … The previous record for longest game in the ACC Tournament was set here two years ago, when Georgia Tech beat N.C. State in 15 innings. UNC’s longest game previously was also 15 innings.