On Wednesday, NC State announced freshman Brad Stone would start for the Wolfpack meaning the Heels would avoid facing Carlos Rodon for a second time in this College World Series. Just before game time, Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent changed his mind and decided to give the ball to Rodon much to chagrin of Tar Heel fans everywhere. As it turns out, it didn't matter because North Carolina starter Hobbs Johnson was spectacular as the Heels won 7-0 to end NC State's season.
Johnson picked up where he left off nearly a month ago versus NC State with 8.1 shutout innings to help blank the Wolfpack for the first time all season. Trea Turner was the only Wolfpack player to get past second base on the night and he got there via a walk and two stolen bases. Outside of that, Johnson handled the Wolfpack with relative ease at one point sitting down 12 straight from the fourth through the seventh inning. After an NCAA Tournament with questionable starting pitching, Johnson provided the Heels with an epic performance to keep UNC alive in Omaha.
At the plate, UNC finally broke through against Rodon. Pitching on short rest, the sophomore hurler was not nearly as sharp as he had been in his previous starts against the Heels. It was clear after the first three innings he was tiring. Avent said during an in-game interview Rodon was on a pitch limit and UNC DH Landon Lassiter gets credit for ensuring that limit was reached sooner rather than later. Lassiter drew a total of 21 pitches in three at-bats versus Rodon. That ended up being a fourth of his pitch count and likely pushed him from the game at least an inning earlier. '
Before that, UNC got on the board when Brian Holberton scored on a sac fly to left. The play at the plate was very close but an incredible slide by Holberton avoided the Brett Austin tag to put UNC up 1-0. In the fifth, Colin Moran returned to his All-American ways with his 90th RBI of the season to give the Heels a 2-0 lead. From there it felt almost like a done deal, especially given the way Johnson was pitching.
However with Rodon out of the game after the fifth it was only a matter of time before the Tar Heel bats did significant damage. Michael Russell's single and Mike Zolk's double on consecutive at-bats in the eighth ended up plating four runs to make it 6-0. Moran then finished the scoring off with an RBI single, his third hit of the game and sixth hit in two games.
With NC State eliminated, UNC's attention turns to UCLA who they will need to beat twice to advance to the championship series. UCLA has made a name for itself winning very close, low scoring games. In fact the Bruins are hitting a whopping .169 in the College World Series and only .249 as a team for the season. Given Benton Moss and Kent Emanuel's struggles of late, facing a team that can't hit could help those two get on track. Of course if UNC can keep the bats going, the pitching becomes less of an issue.