Going into Friday’s game, all of the talk was about how Carolina would handle arguably the toughest pitcher they’ve faced all year, Stetson’s Logan Gilbert. He was masterful last weekend to help send the Hatters to Chapel Hill, and the Seattle Mariners decided he was worth the 14th overall pick in Monday’s draft. The fear increased as Stetson made Carolina starter Cooper Criswell work to get out of the first, getting a run and making Criswell toss 30 pitches.
The Tar Heels answered questions about Gilbert immediately, and the Heels ended up pulling out a 7-4 win over Stetson, putting them one win away from a return to Omaha after a five year absence.
Carolina answered Stetson’s opening run with a run of their own in the bottom of the first, forcing Gilbert to throw 21 pitches himself, and overcoming Kyle Datres being picked off at first base. Brandon Riley hit a sac fly to score Michael Busch, and the Heels went to the second tied at 1.
Criswell settled down to quickly get four scoreless innings, and Carolina’s batters consistently made Gilbert work to get them back into the dugout despite not scoring in frame 2, 3, or 4. The work finally paid off in the fifth as Carolina got two on with two out, and then Cody Roberts hit a bomb over left field to give Carolina a 4-1 lead. Gilbert would only last three more batters, surrounding one more hit.
Criswell earned the win, but Fox was quick to go to the bullpen after Carolina grabbed the lead. Caden O’Brien followed Criswell once he surrendered a double to Jacob Koos in the sixth. O’Brien got them out of the inning, but Stetson threatened again in the seventh. The Hatters got Carolina to go through three pitchers and scored two runs to close the deficit to one, forcing coach Mike Fox to go to closer Josh Hiatt in order to get a three inning save.
The rally didn’t last long.
The bottom of the seventh saw Kyle Datres get hit by a pitch for the second time this game, and Michael Busch quickly made Stetson pay with a long ball to right to get back the runs Stetson had put up. The inning continued with walk after walk, plating two more runs. Stetson would rally in the top of the 9th with two outs, getting runners on first and second and chasing Hiatt off the mound, but it was a little too late as Austin Bergner was able to get Brooks Wilson to fly out to the warning track to seal the win.
Carolina improves to 35-0, that’s right, THIRTY FIVE AND ZERO, when scoring six or more runs in 2018. They also extended their home winning streak to 17 games and ended Stetson’s 18 game winning streak. Busch and Roberts provided a devastating 1-2 punch going a combined 3 for 6 with 3 walks and five RBI. Koos was the leading hitter for Stetson, going 3 for 4 and getting a walk.
The game could not have gone much better for Carolina, as the Heels won the game against the Hatters’ ace, and forced them to use their pen more than they had to last weekend. It puts the Hatters in a tight spot to try and win two in a row to come back, exactly what you need against a team with a great staff.
The Tar Heels try to advance to Omaha on Saturday at noon, with Gianluca Dalatri on the mound. Stetson will try to extend their season with Jack Perkins, no slouch with an 11-2 record and 2.34 ERA. First pitch is at noon, and the game has already been announced as a sellout. If you don’t have a ticket, the game will be on ESPN2.