Heels' Emanuel shuts out Texas 3-0

CORRESPONDENTJune 20, 2011 

— North Carolina coach Mike Fox knew last fall that he had something special in freshman left-hander Kent Emanuel.

The college baseball nation now knows that too, after Emanuel, who turned 19 just two weeks ago, kept the Tar Heels’ season alive with a brilliant pitching performance at the College World Series.

Emanuel limited Texas to four hits in a 3-0 victory before 19,630 at TD Ameritrade Park. The complete-game shutout was the first since Robert Woodard, now a North Carolina assistant coach, pitched the Tar Heels past Clemson in the 2006 CWS.

“He was terrific,’’ Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “He got three pitches over. He used them in different counts where he would lead guys off of change-ups. He’d lead guys off with breaking balls.

“He’d lead guys off with fastballs and he had command throughout the game from beginning to end.’’

Emanuel, winning for the third time in the NCAA tournament and improving to 9-1, never faced more than four Texas hitters in an inning. He struck out five and walked one in a 126-pitch performance that included 84 strikes.

“I thought his curveball and change-up command were what set this performance apart from maybe the rest of them,’’ North Carolina catcher Jacob Stallings said. “Usually he just absolutely commands his fastball and throws it wherever he wants to.

“It seems like they were on his fastball a little bit, especially with two strikes, so we started going to more breaking balls and off-speed pitches. That really had them off balance.’’

Stalling gave Emanuel the runs he needed with a two-out, two-run single in the third inning. Ben Bunting capped a 4-for-5 hitting day with a run-scoring double in the ninth.

North Carolina, beaten 7-3 by Vanderbilt in the opening game of the CWS, advances to play another Bracket One elimination game on Wednesday night. The 51-15 Tar Heels’ opponent will be the loser of Monday’s other game matching Vanderbilt and Florida.

Emanuel got a lift early in the game when Texas twice ran into fly-out double plays. The first came in the second after Jonathan Walsh singled with one out but was doubled off on a fly ball to North Carolina left fielder Chaz Frank.

The Longhorns got Mark Payton to second in the fourth inning but right fielder Seth Baldwin doubled him off after making a nice running catch on Erich Weiss’ line drive.

“Any time we can end the inning on a double play and get two-for-one, it’s big,’’ Emanuel said. “That’s just a credit to our outfielders. Those are two uncommon double plays, and I was fortunate to have them today.’’

Texas never advanced a runner past second base the rest of the game as Emanuel retired 15 of the last 17 runners he faced in completing the first CWS shutout by a freshman since 1993, when Louisiana State’s Brett Laxton threw one against Wichita State in the national title game.

Fox said he knew Emanuel was an uncommon young man when he met him on a recruiting visit.

“Usually, we bring a lot of guys in at a time but he and his dad visited one day during the summer, and I was the only one around,’’ Fox said. “I ended up spending about six hours with them. Kent asked a lot of questions, and they were the right questions.

“I could tell right away that he was a pretty special young man.’’

Fox knew he had a pretty special pitcher early in the season after giving Emanuel a couple of midweek starts.

“It didn’t take long before we knew we had to find a way to get him into the weekend rotation,’’ Fox said.

Emanuel’s biggest strength might be his demeanor. Some freshman would have found the task of pitching in the game that could either extend or end the Tar Heels’ season. Not Emanuel.

“Other than his left arm, his best trait is his demeanor,’’ Fox said. “You don’t see a lot of emotion out of him. That’s what you want when you get on the mound especially at this stage.

“He’s under control. I said it before many, many times that he’s very mature for his age.’’

Emanuel’s dominating performance ended Texas’ season at 49-19 and marked just the fourth time in the Longhorns’ record 34 trips to Omaha that they’ve exited after just two games.

“We didn’t come here to be the first team to leave,’’ Texas shortstop Brandon Loy said. “You’re never going to be satisfied unless you come out of here with a national championship.’’

Those hopes are still alive for North Carolina, thanks to Emanuel.

“We’re excited just to get a win out here,’’ Fox said, “and extend our stay a little longer.’’

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