North Carolina and Mississippi State were supposed to meet in Omaha last night before rain and lightning pushed the game to 10 am local time this morning. Unfortunately, the extra rest did not help the Tar Heels. Despite the fact that Austin Bergner pitched a very good game, save one mistake early on, Carolina fell to the Bulldogs to send them into the losers bracket.
UNC got on the board first when Kyle Datres doubled to lead off the bottom of the first inning. A sacrifice fly by Cody Roberts brought Datres home to give the Heels an early lead. That lead didn’t last very long.
The Heels headed to Omaha having made just one error in their last 20 innings. They picked a bad time to snap that streak on an E5 by Datres that culminated in a bases loaded, two-out jam for Bergner. A hanging slider with two strikes soared over the wall for a grand slam, putting the Tar Heels into a hole they wouldn’t recover from.
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity, though. Carolina put heavy traffic on the bases against MSU starter Konnor Pilkington throughout the game. They could just never come up with the big hit with runners on to break through. UNC did catch a break when Mississippi State’s outfielder lost a fly ball off the bat of Ashton McGee in the sun. McGee hustled out of the box and was credited with a triple because baseball scoring is silly. A wild pitch sent McGee to the plate for Carolina’s second run.
The wheels really fell off for the Heels in the eighth inning. Bergner had completely shut down the Bulldogs, retiring 16 in a row, until two reached to start the inning. Bergner intentionally walked the next batter to load the bases with no outs before departing in favor of Josh Hiatt. MSU was able to dink and dunk Hiatt to death, scoring three more runs without recording an out to make it 7-2.
Hiatt was replaced by Rodney Hutchison and things did not improve. The defense, which had been so sharp, continued to come up short in the big moment. Hutchison got the ground ball he needed, but the throw from Ike Freeman was a bad one and allowed another run to score. Hutchison also plunked a batter while the bases remained loaded to send home another run for the Bulldogs.
After another solid hit by MSU with two outs, Mississippi State cleared the bases with a double to put the Heels in a 12-2 hole. Jordan Westberg put up seven RBI in the game between his grand slam and bases-clearing double. Painful.
It’s a disappointing result, particularly when Bergner was able to shut down MSU’s bats while the Heels put runners on base in nearly every inning without being able to score, but such is baseball. Mike Fox replaced Hutchison with Tyler Baum to try and record the final out of the frame and he was finally able to retire the Bulldogs after 12 men came to the plate.
Carolina went quietly in the bottom of the eighth aside from an Freeman single. UNC went down in order in the ninth inning to put an end to the disappointing result.
The road ahead is a tough one for Carolina. They’ll need to beat Oregon State once and Mississippi State twice in order to advance to the championship series. It’s unclear right now whether or not the Heels’ ace, Luca Dalatri, will be able to return for the treacherous stretch over the next several days, but if he is healthy the Heels could certainly use him.